Two months ago, Coppin State basketball coach Fang Mitchell didn't expect to be juggling his lineup at midseason. He also didn't figure to be two games under .500 at this point. Not with every starter back from a 22-8 team. Not with senior forward Tariq Saunders, so strong two years ago, returning after a redshirt year to add more ability to such a proven team.
But the 1994-95 season has turned into a strange trip for the Eagles (6-8), who are 3-1 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. They started with a grueling, nonconference stretch on the road -- nine of their first 10 games -- against heavyweights like Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and LSU. The Eagles managed three victories in that span.
Coppin State then dragged its weary legs into its MEAC schedule with three straight road games. The Eagles lost to North Carolina A&T, ending their 32-game regular-season winning streak in the MEAC. Next, the Eagles escaped with an overtime victory at South Carolina State. They bounced back with a more impressive win against UMES, before crushing Delaware State on Saturday after playing a poor first half.
The Eagles have provided Mitchell with a vexing challenge. Despite returning all of the power that helped them dominate the MEAC for the previous two years, they are shooting just 40.4 percent. They are driving Mitchell crazy with their inconsistency.
"Everybody is hungry, and what better way to be fed than to eat us?" Mitchell said of the MEAC. "That's what life is like when you're on top. We get everybody's best game. Teams just come at us, because they know we're beatable."
Mitchell admits the constant road trips took some life out of the Eagles. "The big problem is we went directly into our conference schedule on the road," he said. "Bad shooting is a result of being leg-weary. I think they're regaining their strength now. Being at home helps."
The Eagles are at home for five of their next six games, during which Mitchell hopes to settle on a starting lineup. He already has made several changes.
During Coppin State's swing through the Big Eight six weeks ago, Mitchell benched center Mario McGriff, electing to go with a smaller, quicker lineup by putting starting guard/forward Kyle Locke in McGriff's place. Since making that initial change, Mitchell has benched Locke, along with center Michael Thomas (10.0 ppg, 7.1 rpg) a two-year starter who has fouled out of seven games.
For the past three games, Mitchell has gone with a starting lineup that again features three guards, along with two new faces. Junior Allen Watson has started at point guard, where he continues to look like the team's most improved player. Meanwhile, Saunders has taken Thomas' place, and both have blossomed.
Saunders is averaging 11.7 points and 7.7 rebounds during the three-game winning streak, and Thomas came off the bench to earn MEAC Player of the Week honors last week.
"I don't know who to count on anymore," Mitchell said. "With Tariq on the team, we were supposed to be better than last year, but we're still trying to catch up to where we were last year. We have to get a lot better than where we are right now."
Frostburg State's football team may have failed to return to the NCAA Division III playoffs last fall, but the recognition of coach Mike McGlinchey's program continues.
Three members of the 1994 team -- nose guard Joe Holland (City), offensive tackle Tim Feldman (Mount Hebron) and wide receiver Ariel Bell -- were named to the Football Gazette All-America team.
"I've been fortunate enough to have four teams qualify for the NCAA playoffs, with one of them [Salisbury State] making it to the national championship game [in 1986]. But I've never had three All-Americans on one team," said McGlinchey.
Goucher College's volleyball team has earned a statistical champion plaque from the NCAA for playing terrific defense. The Gophers, who finished 31-17 last fall under fourth-year coach Noelle Navarro, led Division III with an average of 25.2 team digs per game.
Junior outside hitter Karen Levi (5.21 per game) and junior setter Laurie Bender (Parkville, 4.97) each ranked among the nation's top 20 in individual digs.
Coppin State's women's basketball team nearly swept the weekly MEAC awards. Senior center Rene Doctor shared Player of the Week honors after averaging 19.7 points and 15.0 rebounds to lead the Eagles to three victories last week, and sophomore guard Lisa Briggs scored 33 points and grabbed 25 rebounds to earn the Rookie of the Week award.
Johns Hopkins' men's basketball team has lost 10 straight games and is 1-12, its worst start under ninth-year coach Bill Nelson. . . . Hopkins defensive lineman Michael House is one of six winners of the Woody Hayes National Scholar Athlete Award. A four-year starter and a key to a defense that was one of the best in the Centennial Conference for the past two years, House majors in biology and carries a 4.0 grade-point average. . . . Loyola senior Patty Stoffey won her third Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Player of the Week award by scoring 65 points and grabbing 23 rebounds in the Greyhounds' 1-1 week. Stoffey leads the MAAC in scoring (22.9) and field-goal percentage (58.8) and is third in rebounding (9.6).