Western Athletic Conference
title is Lady Techsters’ to lose

Forget excitement in this Western Athletic Conference race. This conference title is Louisiana Tech's to lose.

Barring some extraordinary circumstances (like injuries to their entire starting lineup), the Lady Techsters shouldn't have too much trouble winning their third straight Western Athletic Conference championship.

Louisiana Tech has all the ingredients needed for another conference title with its talent, experience and aura of invincibility in the WAC.

"Louisiana Tech is still good and they'll get better as the season goes," Hawaii coach Vince Goo said. "Last year, they were the No. 1 team in November and they got better than anybody else, so they were by far the No. 1 team in February."

The rest of the WAC is playing for second, including the Rainbow Wahine. Hawaii was voted to finish fourth in the preseason coaches vote. It is where they ended up a year ago, tied with San Jose State.

It isn't a total fantasy to think Hawaii (2-7) could be there, despite a disappointing preseason. But Wahine coaches and players recognize the generosity of the coaches in picking the Rainbow Wahine to finish in the upper half of the WAC.

"Top four is going to be realistic but ... they must have all been drinking before that meeting," said junior Jade Abele, tongue in cheek. "I was real surprised when they voted us fourth. We lost three starters. Kim (Willoughby) is not back. We have seven freshmen, that's a big loss.

"It shows a lot of faith in the coaching staff. It's been a good program for a lot of years and that's what they're basing it on."

Hawaii is ninth in the standings based on nonleague action. Five other teams are within a win or two of Hawaii, which means anything can happen. But, it is unlikely that anyone besides Louisiana Tech will be going to the NCAA Tournament by the end of the year. The conference has sent just one representative to the big dance each year since the Lady Techsters joined the WAC.

* * *

Here is a look at the conference teams:

Coach: Jen Warden, second year
2003 WAC record: 6-12
Players to watch: Jamie Hawkins, So., forward; Mandy Welch, Sr., forward; Camille Woodfield, Sr., forward.
Outlook: Warden has three of her top four scorers back in Hawkins, Woodfield and Welch, but Welch has struggled so far. Hawkins leads the Broncos in scoring (14.2 ppg). JC transfer Cariann Ramirez has been a bright spot, chipping in 10.3 points per game.

Coach: Stacy Johnson-Klein, second year
2003 WAC record: 11-7
Players to watch: Aritta Lane, Jr., forward; Veronica Mack, Jr., guard.
Outlook: Last year, Johnson-Klein led Fresno State to the WAC final and a postseason (Women's National Invitation Tournament) appearance for the first time since 1990. If the Bulldogs are interested in getting back, they'll need more people to step up. Senior Java Johnson left the team in October to pursue a professional volleyball career.
Lane, an Aiea High alumnus, leads the team in scoring (15.9 per game) and was named the conference Player of the Week once in December. Junior Veronica Mack is second, averaging 11.8 points. Freshman guard Jasmine Plummer has been a pleasant surprise. Plummer has been a pest in her role off the bench, averaging 2.1 steals per game, 6.2 rebounds and 7.0 points a game. The Bulldogs open and close conference play against the Rainbow Wahine.

Coach: Kurt Budke, second year
2003 WAC record: 18-0
Players to watch: Amber Obaze, Sr., guard; Trina Frierson, Sr., guard; Erica Smith-Taylor, Jr., guard
Outlook: Budke has three starters back who started all 34 games a year ago in Obaze, Frierson and Smith-Taylor. That made it easy for the conference coaches to pick the Lady Techsters as the team to beat once again despite losing 2003 WNBA rookie of the year Cheryl Ford.
Senior forward Amisha Carter has stepped into a starting role and leads the WAC in double-doubles (five) and rebounding (10.1 per game) while averaging 15.5 ppg. The Lady Techsters, now ranked No. 8, upset then-No.6 Penn State to close out their preseason. Tech's only loss this year was to then-No. 2 Tennessee 85-65.

NEVADA (1-9)
Coach: Kim Gervasoni, first year
2003 WAC record: 3-15
Players to watch: April Bankston, Jr., forward; Kate Saltmarsh, So., guard; Jocelyn Mancebo, So., guard.
Outlook: Of the 10 WAC teams, only the Wolf Pack have fared worse than the Rainbow Wahine to start the season.
The Wolf Pack are young with eight underclassmen and a new head coach in Gervasoni. Bankston is the only returning starter and this year's leading scorer (12.2 points). Mancebo, a JC transfer and the second-leading scorer on the squad, and freshman Talisha Quick-Rath have provided early-season offense, but Nevada is struggling.
Radford alum Heather Massey is redshirting.

RICE (3-6)
Coach: Cristy McKinney, 13th year
2003 WAC record: 12-6
Players to watch: Lindsey Maynard, Sr., guard; Anne Peck, Jr., forward; Michelle Woods, Jr., forward.
Outlook: The Owls scheduled tough and played a demanding preseason schedule. The wins haven't come easily, but that was the scenario last year before Rice won five of its last six WAC games to finish second in the conference. Woods, a reserve for two seasons, is starting this year and leading Rice with 9.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. The Owls were picked to finish second again this year in the coaches preseason poll.

Coach: Janice Richard, 11th year
2003 WAC record: 9-9
Players to watch: Cricket Williams, Sr., guard; Tatiana Taylor, Sr., forward; Lamisha Augustine, Jr., forward.
Outlook: The Spartans are the hottest team entering conference action. If non-WAC play is any indication, San Jose State is the frontrunner for second in the conference. Their seven-game win streak is the longest in the conference and the Spartans won the New Orleans Doubletree Classic to close out preseason play on a positive note. San Jose State's only loss was to California in November in its second game of the year. The Spartans are off to their best start in school history with a veteran squad that returns five starters.
Williams, the reigning WAC Player of the Week, is eighth in the conference in scoring (12.8 points per game). She has help, with at least three players averaging 10.1 or more points and two others contributing nine points or more.

Coach: Rhonda Rompola, 13th year
2003 WAC record: 8-10
Players to watch: Andrea Cossey, Sr., guard; Shanta Ramdhanny, Sr., guard; Sarah Davis, So., guard.
Outlook: The Mustangs are coming off a disappointing season and have not found the winning formula yet this year although they are picked to finish third in the conference in the coaches' preseason poll. Cossey is a 3-point specialist and the top returning scorer. Shonte Roberts, the leading rebounder, also returns.
SMU owned a modest two-game win streak but lost to New Hampshire on Tuesday.

Coach: Keitha Green, third year
2003 WAC record: 5-13
Players to watch: Vaida Zagurskyte, Sr.. guard; Angie McGee, Jr.. forward; Noni Wharemate, Sr.. guard.
Outlook: The Miners have their tallest roster in history with seven of 14 players over 6 feet. Center Marta Dydek, a 6-foot-6 transfer from Seward Community College, has helped on offense (10.8 ppg) and defensively with 18 blocked shots and is averaging 7.2 rebounds per game.

TULSA (7-3)
Coach: Kathy McConnell-Miller, fifth year
2003 WAC record: 9-9
Players to watch: Candice Brewer, Sr., guard; Sarah Lundberg, Jr., forward; Megan Moody, So., guard/forward.
Outlook: McConnell-Miller is weaving six new players together with eight returning letterwinners. The combination seems to be working as the Golden Hurricane won their fourth straight, routing Stephen F. Austin 73-56 on New Year's Eve.
Lundberg already owns one WAC Player of the Week award. The transfer from Arkansas is contributing 8.8 ppg and grabbing 5.2 rebounds a game. Redshirt freshman forward Jillian Robbins has played well off the bench and is the third-leading scorer behind Brewer and Moody.


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