- The Washington Times - Monday, November 9, 2009

Five national storylines

Can anyone beat UConn?

Nobody did last year as Geno Auriemma rode an undefeated season to his sixth national championship. And the Huskies start 2009 right where they left off - as the unanimous best team in the country and early favorite to cut down the nets.

What’s in store for Tennessee?

The Volunteers are coming off one of their worst seasons under Pat Summitt, losing in the first round of the NCAA tournament for the first time. The team is a year older but with no seniors is still relatively young. A tough schedule and an improved SEC will make things even tougher.

The Griner Effect

Brittney Griner created a buzz long before her first college game. The 6-foot-8 Baylor freshman gained some popularity on YouTube with her flurry of dunks and already has thrown down in an exhibition game. Her athleticism and 7 1/2 foot wingspan might make her the most dominant player in college from Day One.

Missing stars

Several impact players will miss significant time, and it’ll be interesting to see how their teams respond. Tennessee will be without Amber Gray, who is recovering from a brain aneurysm doctors found during her shoulder surgery. California lost highly touted freshman Tierra Rogers when she was diagnosed with a rare heart condition. And North Carolina doesn’t know whether leading scorer and rebounder Jessica Breland will play this year after a battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which is in remission.

Player of the year race

It’ll be tough to unseat Maya Moore. But Jayne Appel showed flashes of brilliance last year, most notably a 46-point outburst in Stanford’s regional final against Iowa State in the NCAA tournament. Virginia sharpshooter Monica Wright could put together an incredible season as well.

AREA PREVIEWS

American Eagles

Conference: Patriot League

Coach: Matt Corkery, second season

2008-09 record: 19-12

Projected starters: G Nicole Ryan, G Ebony Edwards, G Lisa Strack, F Michelle Kirk, F Liz Leer

Key reserves: G Raven Harris, F Janelle McDonald

Outlook: The Eagles return the core of the team that finished second in the Patriot League. It was the first time the Eagles made consecutive postseason appearances in program history. The key for AU this season is to improve its tournament play. It bowed out in the Patriot League quarterfinals last year despite being the No. 2 seed, then lost its first WNIT game.

Howard Bison

Conference: MEAC

Coach: Niki Reid Geckeler, second season

2008-09 record: 9-22

Projected starters: G Cheyenne Curley-Payne, G Zykia Brown, G Jalisa Pullins, F Amanda Edwards, F Charae’ Baulkman

Key reserves: F Kara Smith, G Cabria Johnson, G Jerelle Gorham

Outlook: Howard is in the second season of a rebuilding process under Geckeler but already has reached a key turning point. With an eight-person recruiting class, Geckeler has a host of her own players and now can mold them into her style of team. The Bison were picked to finish eighth in the MEAC, but they should still see significant improvement.

Georgetown Hoyas

Conference: Big East

Coach: Terri Williams-Flournoy, sixth season

2008-09 record: 20-14

Projected starters: G Shanice Fuller, G Monica McNutt, G Meredith Cox, G Kenya Kirkland, F Jaleesa Butler

Key reserves: G Rubylee Wright, F Adria Crawford, F Alexa Roche

Outlook: The Hoyas gradually improved over the course of last season and made a deep WNIT run, a good omen for this year. But with 10 underclassmen on the roster, their fate for this year will depend on their ability to learn and adjust.

George Mason Patriots

Conference: CAA

Coach: Jeri Porter, second season

2008-09 record: 4-26

Projected starters: G Rashauna Hobbs, G Brittany Poindexter, G Brittany Eley, F Angelee LaTouche, F Rachel Robinson

Key reserves: G Ashleigh Braxton, G Becky Cox, F Amber Easter

Outlook: There’s nowhere to go but up for the Patriots, another area team amid a rebuilding process. Porter spent last season laying the foundation for how she wants the program to be run and is expecting improved results this season. The team has enough talent that if everything comes together, it could show up somewhere in the postseason.

George Washington Colonials

Conference: Atlantic 10

Coach: Mike Bozeman, second season

2008-09 record: 17-14

Projected starters: G Danni Jackson, G Janine Davis, G Tiana Myers, F Tara Booker, F Ivy Abiona

Key reserves: G Kay-Kay Allums, F Megan Nipe, F Brooke Wilson

Outlook: After losing four starters from last year’s team, Bozeman bolstered his roster with a top-50 recruiting class. But with 10 underclassmen on an 11-player roster, the unknown is how much of an impact they will be able to have right away. A finish in the top half of the A-10 isn’t unrealistic.

Maryland Terrapins

Conference: ACC

Coach: Brenda Frese, eighth season

2008-09 record: 31-5

Projected starters: G Anjale Barrett, G Lori Bjork, F Diandra Tchatchouang, F Lynetta Kizer, C Yemi Oyefuwa

Key reserves: G Dara Taylor, F Tianna Hawkins, G Kim Rodgers

Outlook: This is an important year for Frese. She has brought the program to new heights and has established Maryland as an elite program. Now that the players from the 2006 national title team are gone, Frese is tasked with maintaining that success with a second wave of players. Although young, the Terps are talented and should finish in the top five of the ACC.

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