NEWS, NOTES &
The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
By Bethany Bradsher
Women primed for date with
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(ECU SID Photos)
It’s a drumbeat that has sounded since the preseason for the Lady Pirates.
The echoes hearken back to that Big Dance three years ago. The chief goal of
the season is to play well enough to be included in the postseason.
When Tulane cut their Conference USA title short with a 73-64 defeat in the
semifinals, the East Carolina women had to accept the tough reality that
despite a 22-10 record and an explosive early season, the NCAA was not going
to come calling.
But Monday night at nearly midnight, another suitor dropped a card on ECU’s
silver tray. And Tuesday, after their inclusion as an at-large team in the
Women's National Invitation Tournament had sunk in a little bit, the mood
was all spirit and optimism.
“The tournament kind of let us down, but the WNIT pumped us back up,” said
sophomore forward Chareya Smith.
Tuesday marked the Lady Pirates’ only full practice in their home gym before
they leave Thursday morning for Philadelphia, where they will face the
Drexel Dragons in the opening round of the WNIT on Friday night.
It makes for a whirlwind of a week, but the Lady Pirates are not
complaining. There’s something about being selected as an at-large team,
coach Sharon Baldwin-Tener said, that makes a team want to prove the
selection committee right.
“It’s really great to be chosen,” Baldwin-Tener said. “To get an at-large
bid, I think it says a lot about how far our program’s come and the respect
that we’re starting to get.”
Since Drexel certainly wasn’t on ECU’s radar until the pairings were
unveiled, Baldwin-Tener and her staff have been scrambling to learn anything
they can about this week. The Lady Dragons are paced by senior Gabriela
Marginean, who is ranked in the top 10 in the nation in scoring and became
the Colonial Athletic Association’s all-time scoring leader this season with
an average of 23.4 points per game.
“They play, essentially, five guards at the same time, and that can create a
problem for us,” Baldwin-Tener said. “But I do think it’s going to be a
tough matchup for us defensively. They run a lot of five out, a lot of
screens, and they’re really smart.”
Drexel's shooting acumen has the Lady Pirates’ attention, but the home team
will have its own matchup issues with ECU’s post play. Center Jean Best has
25 blocks on the season, and turned in a double-double in a second-round
C-USA tourney win over Memphis with 14 points and 10 rebounds. The tallest
Lady Dragon is 6-foot-2, and Best is 6-5 and playing at the top of her game.
With only one senior (walk-on forward Caitlin Thys), the Lady Pirates are
setting the table for a major impression next season, and every game they
play in the postseason increases national exposure and energizes recruiting
The WNIT, which just expanded to a 64-team field this year in time to
embrace ECU, is the kind of event that can nudge a program up to another
“It’s a goal of ours to go to the postseason every year,” Baldwin-Tener.
“I’m hoping now, that we’ve had an opportunity to go to postseason, that
we’re just going to continue and that be the norm, instead of the
Sophomore guard Ashley Clarke, ECU's leader in both scoring and rebounding
with 11.2 points and 5.2 rebounds a game, said that as the night wore on
Monday, she began to wonder if another deserving ECU women’s team had been
forgotten at postseason time. But then their name was called, and even late
at night everything seemed brighter.
“I feel we’ve worked hard,” Clarke said. “We deserve it. It’s real exciting
for me — the school’s first NIT. It’s like a whole new season.”
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03/17/2010 02:04 AM