Owls aim to be best of local teams

Posted: November 09, 2007

Some faces at several Big Five schools and Drexel are familiar. Elsewhere, newcomers could have a major impact on the progress of their teams.

The Big Five battles promise to be competitive, even if Temple could be favored to continue its domination of recent seasons.

The Owls, trying again to prepare for the Atlantic Ten Conference, will spend much of their nonleague schedule battling Atlantic Coast Conference schools.

An early highlight for Temple is a trip to the Virgin Islands to meet No. 10 Duke and Purdue. Success could bring a matchup with No. 2 Connecticut. There also are trips to No. 3 Rutgers and No. 4 Maryland.

At 4 this afternoon, Villanova will visit La Salle to launch the season and Big Five competition.

Here is a look at each of the schools:

Temple. Senior center Lady Comfort was voted the most improved player in the Big Five and the A-10 last season.

The Owls' key departure was forward Kamesha Hairston, a first-round WNBA draft pick who was Temple's second consecutive A-10 player of the year.

Senior point guard Ashley Morris, a Public League star at Central, gets a chance to build on last season's finish under Dawn Staley, the coach who earned international acclaim at the same position.

Sophomore guard LaKeisha Eaddy was the first freshman to start for Staley, now in her eighth season. The Owls hope she can offset some of the scoring lost with Hairston's departure.

Sophomore Shenita Landry became a threat in the post, which also had freshman Jasmine Stone off the bench. However, Stone will miss some time because she did not meet NCAA eligibility requirements.

Two newcomers draw the word impact from Staley. They are junior-college transfer Shanea Cotton, a 6-foot-4 forward, and freshman guard Lindsay Kimmel of Binghamton, N.Y.

The Owls will have to maintain their new rebounding reputation to challenge George Washington in the conference and earn another NCAA bid.

Temple is also a Big Five win from matching St. Joseph's record streak of 15.

La Salle. The Explorers rocketed to 19-11, their best record since 21-7 in 1996-97, but they did so with senior Crista Ricketts, an inside force.

Senior Carlene Hightower will become Tom Lochner's new No. 1 option.

A possible impact player is freshman Ashley Gale, a guard from Cheltenham who was the PIAA's player of the year.

Junior guard Tara Lapetina is a strong threat on the perimeter, while senior forward Melanie Gibbons provides depth.

Picked 10th in the A-10, the Explorers easily could improve on that forecast.

St. Joseph's. The Hawks' big moment did not arrive until the A-10 tournament, where they upset George Washington in the semifinals and nearly beat host Xavier for the title.

In the quest for that elusive NCAA tournament bid she has sought since becoming coach of her alma mater in 2001, Cindy Griffin must rebuild without graduates Ayahna Cornish, Whitney Ffrench and Erica Pollock. Jen Oyler, a sophomore last season, also is gone.

However, sophomore forward Brittany Ford finally lived up to early expectations when she starred in the conference tournament. Senior guard Timisha Gomez and junior guard Jen Loschiavo provide backcourt experience. The Hawks also have a rookie impact player in center Sarah Acker from Nanticoke, Pa.

St. Joseph's nonconference highlight will be Rutgers' visit on Nov. 28. The Hawks also will open in Iowa's tournament with Women's NIT champion Wyoming. Picked sixth in the A-10, the squad could soar higher and contend in the Big Five.

Villanova. At the Big East's media day, coach Harry Perretta noted that junior Laura Kurz, a Germantown Academy graduate, had another name: "That girl from Duke."

The three-point-shooting ace and former Blue Devil is another new face in town with impact potential. She is a reason the Wildcats might recover from a worst-ever record of 8-21.

With senior forward Stacie Witman, 'Nova is more veteran-oriented. The only loss is Jackie Adamshick.

Providing depth are junior forwards Lisa Karcic and Briana Weiss, and guard Siobhan O'Connor. Sophomore guards Maria Getty and Tia Grant help fill the supporting cast.

Villanova's toughest challenge is that rugged Big East schedule, in addition to competing in the Big Five.

Penn. The Quakers are another team in which newcomers will be a factor, especially junior transfer guard Sarah Bucar from West Virginia.

Coach Pat Knapp lost three key starters in point guard Joey Rhoads, guard Lauren Pears and forward Monica Naltner.

Junior forward Maggie Burgess and junior guard Anca Popovici are the returning starters. Junior guard Kelly Scott was again the team's most improved player.

Other newcomers give Knapp reason to hope for success in the Ivy League, in which Harvard is a strong favorite.

The freshmen include guards Kim Adams and Erin Power and forwards Jerin Smith and Carolina Nicholson.

The Big Five provides the heart of Penn's nonleague schedule, which should be plenty to prepare for the Ivy gauntlet.

Drexel. With the return of junior Nicole Hester, Dragons coach Denise Dillon has a new but familiar face. Hester was sidelined last season while fighting Hodgkin's lymphoma.

However, a "real" new face who could make a difference is center Brooke Cornish, a former Archbishop Carroll star who transferred from Florida.

Gabriella Marginean was a scoring sensation as a freshman and an easy pick for the Colonial Athletic Association's preseason first team.

Narissa Suber, a senior guard, provides three-point firepower.

Senior guard Andrea Peterson, another former Archbishop Carroll star, became eligible at midseason after transferring from St. John's.

The Dragons will see three Big Five teams in Penn, St. Joseph's and La Salle, and a trip to Penn State is also a nonleague highlight.

Old Dominion is expected to dominate the Colonial, but Drexel could move to the upper half of the conference.

Contact staff writer Mel Greenberg at 215-854-5725 or mgreenberg@phillynews.com. Read his blog at go.philly.com/womhoops.

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