Navy women are hoping 3rd time is charm tonight After 2 losses, Mids face Holy Cross for Patriot title

March 04, 1998|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

Credit the Navy women's basketball team with seeking the ultimate challenge.

On Saturday, the Midshipmen (23-5, 10-2), who had secured a berth in the Patriot League final by whipping Lafayette, were asked whether they preferred playing four-time league champion Holy Cross or Lehigh for the title.

Had Lehigh won the other semifinal, Navy would have been host to the championship game. Nevertheless, Navy's team leaders opted to play the Crusaders in Worcester, Mass., at 7: 30 tonight.

It will be a formidable task. The Crusaders (20-8, 10-2), who shared the regular-season title with Navy but won both regular-season meetings, have won 28 straight conference games at the Hart Center, last losing at home to Fordham four years ago.

Holy Cross also has participated in the finals six of the eight years the Patriot League has been in existence and won four titles.

"I still prefer playing Holy Cross," said senior guard Joanne Groth, who sparked the 76-59 semifinal victory over Lafayette with 17 points. "This is my last year. I don't want to go out and say we won a league title if we haven't beaten Holy Cross. I want this championship set in stone."

Added junior center Laurie Coffey, who leads the Mids in scoring (14.0) and has contributed 31 points and 22 rebounds in the two tourney wins: "The last time we played Holy Cross [Feb. 22], we felt we should have won, but lost in overtime. If I'm them, I'd be scared playing us a third time."

But the Crusaders, who seriously challenged national power Connecticut in their season opener before bowing, 87-76, are not a team susceptible to nerves and jitters.

Coach Bill Gibbons boasts the conference player of the year, junior center Amy O'Brien, who leads the team in scoring (26.5) and rebounding (11.7), an outstanding point guard and three-point shooter in sophomore Anne Kinne (11.6 points, 4.0 assists), and clutch-shooting forward Summer Ivan, who made a last-second shot to force the overtime against Navy in Annapolis.

"They really have great team chemistry," said Navy captain Becky Dowling. "They keep running screens and picks to set up O'Brien inside and know how to get the ball in the hands of their best shooters."

Navy coach Joe Sanchez shares this respect for his championship rivals.

"For us to win, we have to play a perfect game," he said. "We can't give a Grade A performance on offense and a Grade C effort on defense and expect to beat a team as good as Holy Cross."

But Sanchez said his Mids have their best chance ever of winning the tournament.

"The past two years, we were missing one or more of our best players -- Ada Schneck and Becky Dowling in 1996 and Laurie Coffey last year," he said. "This is the first time our best six players have been healthy, plus our bench has done an excellent job. Erica Hayes is a terrific sixth man, and Jennifer Bombinski and Mandy Stephan have also provided a lift at different times."

But Sanchez knows he is battling the odds.

"Go down the checklist," he said. "We'll have Hart Arena, a hostile crowd, their pep band and all the cliches you can think of against us.

"But that's basketball. I know I'm speaking for my team when I say we'd play this game anywhere. We've got something to prove."

Pub Date: 3/04/98

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