Women Terps are best team in town

Ken Rosenthal

December 03, 1991|By Ken Rosenthal

COLLEGE PARK -- The NBA boys in Landover are in sixth place. The college boys in Division I are a combined 5-20. The schoolboys from Dunbar have yet to play a game.

If you're trying to identify the best basketball team in the state, you'd better switch genders. The Maryland women are the genuine article, not that many care.

An intimate gathering of 385 watched Maryland trounce Loyola 100-53 last night at Cole Field House. Introductory classes at College Park draw bigger crowds, but never mind.

This year the women truly deserve better -- no other local team is as compelling, unless you count Dunbar, the nation's No. 1 high school team in USA Today.

Only Maryland offers an Israeli and a Finn in the same starting lineup. Only Maryland offers a coach whose courtside rituals are often as interesting as its games.

The Terps (4-0) are ranked ninth in the latest AP poll, and with apologies to Wes Unseld, that's with a bullet. The position is their highest since 1989, when they finished fifth.

The Maryland men are also undefeated (3-0), but they're not ranked, and of course remain ineligible for the NCAA tournament. The women have no such probation, and no such problems.

Chris Weller, the coach of 1,000 superstitions, said earlier this was her best team in 17 years at Maryland. She's back in her Joe Gibbs mode now, but only because she's trying to be polite.

Maryland has scored 100 points in three of its four games. Its ranking has increased from 15th to 12th to ninth, and the upward mobility will continue with a victory Thursday at No. 7 Penn State.

That will be the first legitimate test of the season, the first time Weller can truly compare this group to her three Final Four teams, particularly the '88-89 squad that went 29-3.

Senior forward Dafne Lee was a freshman then, and she said, "In terms of overall talent, I would say this team has a little bit more. This team is much deeper."

How deep? At center there's Jessie Hicks, who's shooting a cool percent (25-for-36). Her backups -- Bonnie Rimkus and Monica "Don't Call Me Michael" Adams -- could start for most teams. Rimkus was ACC Rookie of the Year last season.

At point guard, the newcomer from Israel, Limor Mizrachi, is interchangeable with flashy Estelle Christy. At shooting guard, Katrina Colleton yields to All-America junior-college transfer Malissa Boles, who also can substitute at forward for Finnish import Michele Andrew.

It's like that up and down the roster. Weller said the first practice was "the most exciting I've ever coached. It was the first time I ever felt I had to do something to calm them down. They were a bunch of stallions. I was trying to hold back the reins."

Not every practice has gone as smoothly, but Weller won't retract her statement about this being her best team, even though she qualified it by saying, "I didn't mean I thought they were all-world right now." Surely, Loyola coach Frank Szymanski was in no position to argue the point last night.

No one expected it to be close -- Maryland beat Towson State by 56, and Towson beat Loyola by 29. To make matters worse, Szymanski started four freshmen. "It was like the midgets and the giants," he said.

Even so, he could not stop gushing about Maryland. "They're sensational," he said. "They look like they're jelling very quickly. They're probably in midseason form."

Weller, of course, disagreed, but who can trust a coach who always sits in the fourth seat from the end of the bench, a coach who always screams "Let's Go Maryland!" with exactly 1:12 remaining in pregame warmups?

As if that's not enough, Weller raps her head twice and the floor twice whenever her mood strikes for good luck. The Terps led by 20 points at intermission last night, but there she was, pounding her knuckles as the second half began.

One would think Weller might relax, for her program is finally receiving big-time treatment at Maryland. Athletic director Andy Geiger authorized the hiring of a second full-time assistant this year, as well as a marketing specialist to help draw larger crowds.

Maryland has never drawn more than 3,500 fans for a women's game, and its attendance for 13 home dates might not exceed the 14,500 capacity the men will attract for Duke. Still, the women have a season ticket brochure for the first time, and their crowds surely will increase in January once ACC play begins.

It's a fun team to watch, a team that moves the ball quickly, a team that loves to run the break. Local hoops fans know all about the NBA boys, the college boys, even the schoolboys. They should check out the Maryland women, the best basketball team in the state.

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