Mount St. Mary's women are back, right on schedule, right on top

March 07, 1994|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun Staff Writer

EMMITSBURG -- The scene has become monotonous at Mount St. Mary's College.

It goes something like this: Women's basketball coach Bill Sheahan and an assistant bring in another strong class of recruits, strip the game down to its essentials during preseason practice, then turn the newcomers loose with veterans to beat up on their competition.

Occasionally, the players are big-time performers. Mostly, they are solid players sold on being pieces of a puzzle that produces more than 20 victories. Then, after another successful season, the seniors graduate -- on time -- and become doctors, lawyers, engineers.

The annual cycle at the Mount is winding up again, on schedule. The Mountaineers (22-3, 18-0) have clinched their fifth straight Northeast Conference regular-season championship. They are headed into the conference tournament top-seeded, this time with an added twist. They are undefeated against league opponents for the first time.

They play host to St. Francis (N.Y.) in a quarterfinal at 7 p.m. tomorrow. The semifinals will be played on Thursday and the championship game on Saturday, both at 7 p.m., at the higher-seeded school.

If it wins the tournament as expected,Mount St. Mary's will make its first trip to the NCAA tournament since moving to Division I six years ago. The NEC gets an automatic bid now that the field has been expanded to 64 teams.

Once again, the architect of this success is Sheahan, a retired insurance salesman who made the leap from successful high school coach to the Mount 12 years ago. He followed a successful three-year stint by Fred Carter -- coach of the Philadelphia 76ers -- and Sheahan has not stopped winning.

Sheahan, who has been chosen NEC Coach of the Year for the third time in five seasons, has a college record of 294-63. His .824 winning percentage is second-highest among active women's coaches, behind Leon Barmore of Louisiana Tech. To him, this year's team isn't much different from the Division II teams he guided regularly to 25-victory seasons. He is still running the same system, still going after the same kind of players he did as a rookie coach, still graduating players at a percentage rate in the upper 90s at the small (1,400 undergraduate students), Catholic school in the Catoctin Mountains.

"We go after the good players, the same as everyone else, but the majority of time we strike out when we're up against the Marylands," Sheahan said. "So we look for that next-line player. We hope to get a fundamentally sound kid who isn't self-centered and is willing to learn how to get better."

Sheahan calls himself a dinosaur. At 55, he is 39 years into coaching -- going back to his days of CYO ball in Northwest Washington, D.C., where he grew up, and including a 162-4 high school record in six years at Academy of the Holy Cross in Montgomery County.

As he gets older, he values more and more the input of his assistants. His top aide is Candy Cage, 30, a third-year assistant who handles the bulk of recruiting and provides a communication link between Sheahan and his players.

"He doesn't come in and say, 'You are my assistant. We do things this way.' He hired me because he wants my input, and often we disagree, and I'll win," Cage said. "The game has changed so much, but the bottom line is still fundamentals. Bill is teaching the college kids the same things he teaches 11-year-olds at his camps."

Sheahan runs many of the same offensive sets he introduced as a rookie. He prefers pressing, man-to-man defense in an age when junk zones pop up more and more. And as the three-point shot has become pervasive in the college game, he believes in living and dying in the paint.

"I've always believed in the high-percentage shot," he says. "There are only so many possessions in the game, and you have to break them all down. We like to run, we like to play pressure defense, and we'll take the three-pointer sometimes, but we have to look for the inside shot first."

Year after year, the Mountaineers buy into Sheahan's credo. Year after year, they have been near the bottom of their conference standings in three-point attempts. Year after year, Mount St. Mary's leading scorer is a low-post player.

This year, junior forward Susie Rowlyk (16.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg) has been the go-to player, as the Mountaineers have outscored their NEC opponents by an average of 13.5 points. A 6-foot-1 forward from Lincoln University, Pa., she was chosen the NEC Player of the Year this past weekend in a vote of league coaches. Rowlyk's award gives the Mount its fourth Player of the Year in five years in the league.

"They're real big on fundamentals," Rowlyk said of the Mount coaches.

"They expect the best from you. It's not demanded. It's what expected. They really draw it out of you. That's what makes them good coaches and makes us better players."

Point guard Amy Langville, who made the league's all-newcomer team, agreed.

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