ACC women set for basketball to start

CorrespondentNovember 7, 2013 

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    The No. 2 Blue Devils’ goals: Win the ACC regular season, the ACC tournament, and play in the Final Four before going on to win the title.

    Joanne P. McCallie’s club, which is the ACC favorite and went 33-3 last season, has been on the threshold of that last goal for four straight years. And the best proven recruiting class of her 21-year coaching career has a final chance to do it.

    As long as they don’t run into the kind of bad luck they’ve had the past two post-seasons, with center Elizabeth Williams hobbled two years ago with a bad leg and floor leader Chelsea Gray out the final month of last season with a knee injury.

    “I think our chemistry started when we stepped on campus,” Gray said about her class, which includes fellow starters Tricia Liston and Haley Peters and top-line reserves Chloe Wells and Tricia Liston. “We’re a very tight-knit group and like a family within a big family. I’m just very excited to be on the court with all of them and have a chance to finish my career with them.”

    Duke opens its season on Sunday at 6 p.m. (ESPNU) at No. 9 California.

    UNC basketball won’t look quite the same at least for part of this season.

    Veteran coach Sylvia Hatchell won’t be on the sideline as she receives treatment for leukemia that was diagnosed in October.

    Her top assistant, Andrew Calder who has been with her at UNC for 27 seasons, will run the team in her absence.

    “It’s been very difficult with her not there,” UNC junior shooting wing Megan Buckland said. “But that gives us some motivation, something else to fight for and something else to play for, knowing she’d want us to work just as hard as we had been before.”

    The No. 12 Tar Heels should have their best team in several seasons, with 6-1 Diamond DeShields and 6-3 Stephanie Mavunga leading a four-player freshman class that is ranked No. 1 in the country.

    They’re coming off a nice 29-7 season.

    Sophomore Xylina McDaniel, who was preseason All-ACC, is back as a starter along with junior guard Brittany Rountree. Junior Latifah Coleman will move to the point on a team that doesn’t have a single senior.

    The Tar Heels open Friday at 4:30 against visiting Air Force.

    Wes Moore has been one of the winningest coaches in college basketball over the past 24 years.

    But that was at small colleges before his highly successful Southern Conference tenure at Chattanooga.

    Now the former assistant to the late Kay Yow is directing his own team in the big time.

    The Wolfpack (17-17 last season) got just one NCAA bid in four seasons – and that was in 2010 – under former coach Kellie Harper who is now at Missouri State.

    And they’ll have a leadership vacuum on the floor, as last season’s senior guard Marissa Kastanek is now playing pro ball in Sweden.

    “It’s up to all the seniors to be accountable and show leadership,” said senior Kody Burke, who at 6-2 will be one of the “out” players in Moore’s ‘four-out, one-in’ system that’s going to have everyone but intimidating 6-5 center Markeisha Gatling on 3-pointer duties.

    Senior Myisha Goodwin-Coleman is the best 3-point shooter, and she has moved from the point to shooting guard. Juniors Krystal Barrett and Len’Nique Brown were perimeter starters last season.

    Freshman guards Miah Spencer and Ashley Williams could have significant playing time right away.

    State opens at home Friday at 6 against St. Bonaventure.

ACC women’s basketball this season could turn out to be all about three groups of teams.

The best programs in the league – Duke, North Carolina, Maryland and newcomer Notre Dame.

The solid programs in the middle. Count Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami, Virginia and newcomer Syracuse in that group.

The six programs that have either never made a run at the top or are going through extended rough patches. N.C. State will be in that group along with Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Boston College and newcomer Pittsburgh.

No coach in that group has more than two seasons of experience at the school, and there are three newcomers in the Wolfpack’s Wes Moore, Clemson’s Audra Smith and Pitt’s Suzie McConnell-Serio.

All 15 coaches will tell you the ACC is the nation’s best conference. And those groups could be extremely important come ACC tournament time, as the top four seeds won’t have to play until the third day of the tournament and the next five will have first-round byes in the five-day event in Greensboro.

The Tar Heels will start the season without Hall of Fame coach Sylvia Hatchell, who is receiving treatment for leukemia. Her long-time assistant Andrew Calder will run the show.

“There are a lot of really good things we’re looking forward to,” said Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, who won the 2001 NCAA title and whose team has played in three straight Final Fours. “It’s kind of a change of scenery, in a way.

“We’re not all that familiar with the philosophies of some of the coaches, the officials, the style of play and what it’s like to go to some of those venues. I think there’s a little bit of apprehension and anxiety until you see it.”

The Irish (No. 6 in The Associated Press preseason poll), who placed senior guard Kayla McBride and forward Natalie Achonwa and sophomore guard Jewell Boyd on preseason All-ACC teams – are picked to finish second in the league behind No.2 Duke, which has won three of the past four ACC tournaments.

The Blue Devils’ season ended in the NCAA’s Elite Eight the past four seasons, including an 87-76 loss to Notre Dame in March.

Duke has impressive depth as all five members of its No.1 recruiting class of 2010 are contributing as seniors, including starters Chelsea Gray – who missed the rest of last season after a Feb. 17 knee injury – Tricia Liston and Haley Peters.

Dominant center Elizabeth Williams was the ACC Freshman of the Year two seasons ago and sophomore guard Alexis Jones was most outstanding player of the ACC tournament last season. With the incoming No.2 recruiting class in the country, Duke is favored to go to the Final Four for the first time in eight years.

“We’ve got a lot of reasons for wanting to do well as a team this year,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “But every year is a new year. Whatever you’ve done in the past is really not relevant to the year ahead, which is now.”

No. 8 Maryland, picked third, is in its final season in the conference. The Terps won the ACC tournament two years ago and the NCAA title in 2006 under coach Brenda Frese. Senior forward Alyssa Thomas was ACC Player of the Year last season and is the preseason player of the year.

No. 12 North Carolina, picked fourth, returns sophomore All-ACC forward Xylina McDaniel and has the No.1 recruiting class in the country, led by forwards Diamond DeShields and Stephanie Mavunga.

“It’s about every day doing our best and getting better every day,” Calder said. “We have a chance to be very special. The girls have been working extremely hard. We’re talented. If we can get that chemistry we have a chance to be very special if we come together.”

FSU was picked fifth, followed by Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Virginia, Miami, N.C. State, Boston College, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Clemson and Pitt.

“We have five seniors (led by center Markeisha Gatling, forward Kody Burke and shooting guard Myisha Goodwin-Coleman) that I hope are hungry and want to get a start on getting N.C. State women’s basketball back to where it can be,” said Moore (558-169), who is the only coach in history to get teams into the NCAA Division I, II and III tournaments. “(N.C. State lost) a lot of close games last year. We’ve got to be physically tough enough and confident enough to win those close games.”

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