Towson aims to turn its ire on foes, make tournament run

Despite dissension, coach says, `I believe in this team'

America East women

March 08, 2000|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

The starting center and leading scorer, Jess Gordon, didn't return to school last fall.

Backup center Kyva Jones was diagnosed with a muscular disease that is related to Lupus and had to sit out the season.

Power forward Faith Jones stunned coach Ellen Fitzkee by transforming herself into a finesse forward with a rigid summer workout program that took 45 pounds off her 6-foot frame.

Jill McGowan, a three-point sharpshooter and the team's instant offense off the bench, played all season with a broken left wrist.

Versatile starting guard Michele Lanigan never fully recovered from a summer ankle operation and played at 80 percent all season.

And as the losses kept adding up toward a disappointing 9-18 season, tempers flared between Towson University's women's players and coaches.

"We've screamed and yelled at each other like any family does," Fitzkee said the other day as seventh-seeded Towson (9-18, 7-11) prepared to meet 10th-seeded Boston University (7-20, 3-15) tonight at 6 in an opening-round game in the America East tournament at the University of Vermont.

"The players and coaches went through all that arguing stuff and hopefully we've emerged as a much stronger team as a result of it. It will be a terrific story if we can go where we want to go [tournament title]. I believe in this team."

So what happened to Gordon, who led the Tigers in scoring with 11.0 points and was second in rebounding with 7.3 last season?

"She said she had to figure out what to do with the rest of her life," Fitzkee said. "I told her she could do that later, after she played two more years here. But she stayed home in Williamsburg, Pa., which is a little town near Altoona."

And why did Faith Jones trade power for finesse and more glamour?

"I told Faith, `You look great but we need your power game,' " Fitzkee said. "She played good defense this season but it's tough to out-finesse centers at this level."

McGowan was praised by Fitzkee "for her guts" and Lanigan was labeled as "a workhorse for Towson basketball for four years who would do whatever it takes to win."

However, senior forwards Shniece Perry and Mylisa Pilione and slender freshman point guard Mia Chapman have been the Tigers' driving forces most of the season.

Perry is a fiery team leader who tops the Tigers and the America East in rebounding with 10.7 a game, is second on the team in scoring with 10.2 points a game and is first in the America East with 89 steals. Perry takes every loss personally and has pledged to fight to the bitter end to keep her collegiate career going.

"I have no more chances," she said. "I want to leave the court totally exhausted. I want to know I gave it my all. I'm predicting if we get past Boston, we'll beat Maine in the quarterfinals. Maine [second-seeded with 14-4 record] is just another team."

Pilione leads Towson in scoring with 11.5 points a game from the small forward position, and the 5-5 Chapman has been the hottest player on the team over the final three games of the season. Chapman has scored 45 points in those three games, and the team responded with two straight victories to end the regular season.

America East women

When: Today-Saturday

Where: Patrick Gymnasium, Burlington, Vt.

TV: None

Radio: Towson games on WTMD (FM 89.7)

Defending champion: Northeastern

Favorite: Vermont. The Catamounts (22-5, 15-3 America East) not only are the top seeds, but they also have the home-court advantage and Karalyn Church, an extremely gifted 6-foot senior forward who was the 1998 America East Player of the Year. Vermont was eliminated last year in the semifinals, providing motivation that could drive the Catamounts to greater heights this year.

Dark horse: Northeastern. This is a dangerous tournament team that got a taste of the big time last season by gaining its first NCAA tournament berth. The Huskies, who were beaten in the opening round of the NCAAs by North Carolina, 64-55, on the Tar Heels' home court, are led by 5-6 senior guard Tesha Tinsley, a former standout at Baltimore's Western High. Tinsley has been a prolific scorer in America East, finishing third in her junior and senior years.

MVP candidate: Karalyn Church. With Vermont favored to win the tournament, Church is the obvious choice for Most Valuable Player. The Guelph, Ontario, native not only averages 20.2 points a game, but she also shoots 66 percent and averages 7.7 rebounds, 2.2 steals and one block.

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