Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Guru's Time Machine: Big East Media Days (1999-2005)

By Mel Greenberg

The Big East will have its annual media day for its women's basketball team on Thursday in New York. Tuesday's time machine visit presents our coverage of past media days from 1999 through a year ago. There is a fascination as to what was said and what actually happened. Remember, we were in our local configuration for the Inquirer. Reading down we'll start at the top with the 1999-2000 preview -- a season in which Rutgers and Connecticut made it to the Final Four here in Philadelphia. -- Mel

UCONN NOT ALONE AT TOP THIS TIME

Oct 29, 1999

By Mel Greenberg

INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

NEWARK, N.J. _ In recent times, when the Big East Conference held its annual media day for women's basketball, the event served as a forum for coach Geno Auriemma and his University of Connecticut squad to discuss how their sights were set on a national title.

But, with three Big East teams appearing in most preseason top-10 rankings and a fourth in several top-20 listings, yesterday's gathering in Newark, N.J., was a chance to discuss the league's elevation among the elite conferences.

Connecticut is a No. 1 choice in many national publications, while Rutgers is a consensus top five, Notre Dame a consensus top nine, and Boston College, which debuted in last season's NCAA tournament, has been getting top-20 mention.

"We don't have to stand here and try to sell our teams, because they speak for themselves," Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese said.

"Television-wise, there are only four conferences in the country whose schools will be making [regular-season] appearances on both ESPN and CBS - ourselves, the SEC, Big Ten and ACC. "

Connecticut, which has gone 104-4 in regular-season league competition since 1993-94, was made the top Big East choice for the seventh straight year.

To fulfill that forecast, the Huskies will probably have to face their toughest fight in some time. On the bright side, the Big East tournament returns to the Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn., in March.

"I don't think there's ever anything bad about having more than one really, really good team in this league," Auriemma said.

"Given the history of the league, we've been regionally good, and nationally we've been very good at the top. But, nationally, this is the most attention and most respect we've gotten as a conference, and that's indicative of the work the coaches have done in the league. "

Rutgers is reaping the fruits of attracting coach Vivian Stringer back East - she started at Cheyney State - from Iowa before the 1995-96 season, while Notre Dame, which has national ambitions, also joined the league before 1995-96.

"Joining the Big East was the best thing to happen to Notre Dame women's basketball," said Irish coach Muffet McGraw, who starred at St. Joseph's and is in the Big Five Hall of Fame.

"We were basically an independent playing in the MCC, and didn't get the national recognition I thought we deserved. We joined the Big East and suddenly we got credibility. Our wins looked a lot better, and our whole program got elevated. We had a lot of success in the NCAA tournament the last five years. "

Second-year Pittsburgh coach Traci Waites was a star at Georgia in the Southeastern Conference and later was an assistant at Arizona in the Pacific Ten before joining the Panthers last season.

"In the SEC, there was a lot of athleticism," Waites recalled. "The conference from top to bottom was strong.

"The Pac-10 is a lot like the Big East . You get your top teams and everybody else. But after being in this league for a season, I have a lot respect for the jobs the coaches do here. "I look at Villanova. Georgetown does a great job. Syracuse, Miami - those teams always seem in the middle. Also, you look at the way people are picked to finish, and it's a lot different than a year ago. There are teams in the bottom that may end up in the middle. "

Villanova coach Harry Perretta, whose Wildcats dominated the Big East in the early 1980s, endorsed the league's growth.

"This is the strongest we've been, no question," Peretta said. "I think you've got three leagues [within the Big East ] - the top four, the next four and the next four, and it will be interesting to see who can cross over. But it doesn't matter where you are in this league. "

Career move -- St. John's new head coach is Darcel Estep, who starred at Delaware Valley College in the late 1980s and was an assistant at Villanova before becoming Morgan State head coach in 1996.

"It's a dream come true," Estep said of her move to the Red Storm and return to the league. "When you work hard and try to do the right things in life, good things are eventually going to come. I'm just excited to be part of this.

"This is a great opportunity. Having been under Harry Perretta - great teaching, great philosophies - and, of course, being a head coach, I've built my own philosophies. "

Philly roots -- Estep is one of eight coaches in the league with a Philadelphia-area connection along with Perretta, Auriemma, McGraw, Stringer, Georgetown's Pat Knapp, Syracuse's Marianne Freeman (who played for Stringer at Cheyney State), and Miami's Ferne Labati (a native of South Jersey).

Coaches' picks -- Villanova was picked sixth behind Connecticut, which received 10 first-place votes. Rutgers got the remaining three first-place votes. Notre Dame, Boston College and Georgetown followed.

Connecticut junior and Russian native Svetlana Abrosimova was picked as the Big East preseason player of the year, while Huskies freshman Kennitra Johnson was named the top rookie of the year.

Rutgers junior Tasha Pointer and senior Shawnetta Stewart, a University City graduate, joined Abrosimova and Connecticut junior Shea Ralph on the all- Big East preseason first team, with Notre Dame junior Ruth Riley.

Notre Dame senior Niele Ivey made the second team, with Boston College senior Alissa Murphy, Georgetown junior Katie Smrcka-Duffy, Rutgers junior Tammy Sutton-Brown and Connecticut sophomore Tamika Williams.

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UCONN SET TO START SEASON AS OVERWHELMING FAVORITE

Oct 27, 2000

By Mel Greenberg

It was business as usual yesterday morning at the Big East Conference media day in Newark, N.J., with defending national champion Connecticut dominating the preseason voting by the league's coaches.

The Huskies received 13 of 14 votes as the top team - essentially making them a unanimous choice because coaches couldn't vote for their own squads.

Rutgers, which along with UConn advanced to the Final Four last April at the First Union Center, had the other first-place vote and finished second. Notre Dame was third, Boston College fourth. Villanova was seventh behind a fifth-place tie between Georgetown and league newcomer Virginia Tech, which moved from the Atlantic Ten.

Connecticut senior guard Shea Ralph was voted preseason player of the year. Two of her teammates - junior guard Sue Bird and senior guard-forward Svetlana Abrosimova - joined her on the all- Big East first team, along with Rutgers senior guard Tasha Pointer and Notre Dame senior center Ruth Riley. Scarlet Knights senior center Tammy Sutton-Brown was one of the five second-team honorees.

In the balloting, UConn also had the top rookie, guard Diana Taurasi of Chino, Calif. Coach Geno Auriemma recently said she brings a different dimension to the program because of her ability to score from all over the floor.

What's scary is that this Connecticut team might be even more powerful than the group that trounced Tennessee, 71-52, for the national title.

Bypassed for the preseason honors, for example, were 6-foot-5 senior center Kelly Schumacher, who set an NCAA record with nine blocks in the title game; junior forward Ashja Jones, who was the most valuable player of the Big East tournament; and junior forward Swin Cash.

Another big announcement this week for UConn was that between national telecasts and a regional package of 21 dates, every game on the Huskies' schedule will be televised.

"When you come in here as a freshman, you're really in awe," Cash said. "But after a while, you just realize it's really big and you try to build on it. "

Rutgers is also expected to return to the national title hunt and Sutton-Brown, who played on the Canadian Olympic team, said the Final Four experience of last season should help, despite the graduation of University City High's Shawnetta Stewart.

"We have five seniors, and . . . we understand what it takes to get there," Sutton-Brown said.

Rutgers coach Vivian Stringer was upbeat about the Scarlet Knights' recruiting efforts for next year.

"If we get who we think we might get, that class might be among the top ones this season," Stringer said.

Virginia Tech is ready to take on its new competition after being among the Atlantic Ten's leaders the last several seasons.

"The bar has been raised here," said coach Bonnie Henrickson. "In the Atlantic Ten you had a quality group among Xavier, George Washington and Massachusetts and ourselves, but you didn't have a defending national champion, a Final Four participant, and a Sweet 16 [Notre Dame]. "

The conference tournament is scheduled for March 3-6 at Connecticut. For 2002 and 2003, Rutgers will host.

On the mend -- After Virginia coach Debbie Ryan returned from a trip to Hawaii in August, she underwent surgery for a small blockage in her pancreatic duct. Doctors found and removed a tumor, which turned out to be cancerous. The disease, however, had not spread.

"I had returned from Hawaii on a Thursday and then, the following Monday, when I woke up with all these tubes attached to me, I just knew I had to get back to coaching," Ryan recounted during the Atlantic Coast Conference media day Sunday in Greensboro, N.C.

"I'm not at 100 percent, yet, I won't lie to you," said Ryan, who is a graduate of Ursinus. "The way I feel right now is like I've been through a season, not at the start of one.

"But my energy level is very good and in terms of practice, I've been about to do everything that I normally do. I'm finished my therapy so I should continue to get stronger and stronger. "

Virginia, which is expected to challenge favored Duke for the ACC title, will make a non-conference visit to St. Joseph's on Dec. 6.

Camera shy -- Temple's players were a little startled Wednesday to see the sizable media turnout for a chat with first-year coach Dawn Staley and the rest of the Owls before practice in the Liacouras Center.

"Oh, wow," said junior center Lisa Jakubowicz, Temple's leading scorer (10.5 points) and rebounder (6.3), who hasn't seen much in the way of crowds as the team has struggled in recent seasons.

Staley, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and star in the ABL and WNBA, has set winning the Atlantic Ten championship as a goal for the season.

"We had a pretty good team last year," Jakubowicz said, "but for whatever reason, we never could put all the pieces together. So, it's really not an unreasonable expectation. "

Staley said the biggest disappointment during her first days of practice was that players were not in shape.

"They are paying for that right now," Staley said, "but they won't make the same mistake next year, I promise you that. "

Temple has attracted recruiting visits from candidates who would not have previously given the Owls the time of day. One recent visitor was 5-foot-9 guard Cappie Pondexter from Chicago; she has been reported to be considering Connecticut, Rutgers, Southern Cal, Nevada-Las Vegas, and DePaul.

Miller time -- La Salle coach John Miller received a contract extension through the 2002-03 season, the school announced yesterday.

The Explorers finished first in the nation in grade-point average among NCAA Division I women's basketball teams, the second time in four seasons the team topped the list compiled by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association.

Mel Greenberg's e-mail address is mgreenberg@phillynews.com

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In the Big East, talk of basketball and terrorism

Oct 26, 2001

By Mel Greenberg

NEWARK, N.J. _ On the surface, the women's basketball preseason media day for the Big East Conference yesterday was no different from those in previous years.

Connecticut, a strong national favorite, was the coaches' choice to win the conference - a perennial pick since the start of the 1993-94 season.

Commissioner Mike Tranghese boasted of the Big East 's national reputation and its two consecutive NCAA champions - UConn's Huskies in 2000 and Notre Dame in March. The conference also has one of the better TV arrangements.

Villanova, Boston College and Georgetown could speak with a little more authority on pursuing the perennial Big East front-runners, which include Rutgers.

But at the Sheraton Newark Airport Hotel, the conversation turned from basketball to the altered American landscape since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, and in the sky over Western Pennsylvania.

Many of yesterday's participants had seen the strong National Guard presence when they arrived at Newark International Airport.

"If you don't live here in the Northeast, you might feel a little distant from what happened," Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said.

"But I feel like I was personally attacked," she said, nodding toward Lower Manhattan, where the twin towers once stood.

"It's a terrible time to be recruiting, when you're trying to bring a kid east," the Hall of Fame coach added. "What do you say to their parents?

"But if anything positive has come of it, at least now we know who the real heroes are in the world," Stringer said of the rescue workers.

Georgetown coach Pat Knapp, a native of Philadelphia, and St. John's coach Darcel Estep, who played at Delaware Valley College, must prepare for the season in cities where bioterrorism is the foremost topic each day.

"We talked to our kids about Sept. 11 the next day," Knapp said. "And we offered counseling, as anybody did. We talked to them again a week later.

"The quick answer is they don't seemed fazed by it. We talked about it in a historical sense that we were in a city [Washington] that was going to be the focal point of this stuff. Little did we know how much more.

"We did have a young lady from the West Coast bail out after this," Knapp said of a recruit.
Team travel is another concern.

"This year, before it ever happened, we were only going to have four plane trips," Knapp said.

"Now, we'll bus to Syracuse, and we're looking to charter flights for the other three.

"To be honest, I haven't seen a strain on [the players], and maybe that's good. They should live their lives as 18-, 19-, and 20-year-old kids and not worry about this. But we told them to be aware. "

Estep said she saw a different side of her players in New York on Sept. 11.

"That time of the year, I'm still trying to bond and learn the personnel you've just brought in," Estep said. "They have been very mature about the worldly situation and put things in perspective. Practices have been very focused and entertaining, but at the same time, they have an understanding that other things are going on beyond the basketball. "

Early honors -- Villanova's Trish Juhline was named to the all-conference preseason first team with Connecticut's Sue Bird, the Big East preseason choice as player of the year. Bird is expected to be the top draft pick in next spring's WNBA draft. Connecticut's Swin Cash, Boston College's Becky Gottstein, and Notre Dame's Alicia Ratay also were named to the first team.
Rutgers' Davalyn Cunningham was named to the second team.
Villanova was fifth in the coaches' poll behind Connecticut, Notre Dame, Rutgers and Boston College.

Goring to UConn -- Gillian Goring, a former Germantown Academy center rated among the top recruits in the nation, has made an oral commitment to attend Connecticut, the Journal Inquirer of Manchester reported.

The 6-foot-6 native of Trinidad and Tobago, who still must meet several academic requirements before she can compete in the NCAA, will play this year for Waterloo West High in Iowa. She averaged 16 points a game last season for the Patriots.

Mel Greenberg's e-mail address is mgreenberg@phillynews.com.

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Perretta admits 'Nova is talented

Oct 25, 2002

By Mel Greenberg

NEWARK, N.J. -- At first, it sounded like the usual preseason whine from Villanova coach Harry Perretta yesterday during the Big East Conference women's basketball media day at the Sheraton Newark Airport Hotel.

"I never get excited about the season," Perretta, the dean of the conference coaches, said. "If I get picked 14th, I get aggravated right away.

"I think our team stinks at the beginning of the year," he continued. "I think they stink in the middle of the year. And I think they stink at the end of the year. "

But Perretta, who will begin his 25th season on the Main Line, found it difficult to continue his downbeat approach.

"We have three seniors returning, and I'm minorly excited about that. We might actually score more than 50 points in a game," Perretta said. "We have a group of five talented freshmen. "

Then came a rare Perretta admission that's no secret among his conference colleagues, who picked the Wildcats fourth in the Big East preseason poll.

"I actually have the most talented team I ever had at Villanova, from one through 15. "

"We're excited," said senior Trish Juhline, who was named to the all-conference preseason starting five. "The freshmen are doing really well. We had long practices in the beginning so they could learn all the offenses, and they picked it up pretty quickly. "

The other senior starters are Nicole Druckenmiller and Katie Davis, who, like Juhline, are proficient three-point shooters.

Junior Courtney Mix returns as the first player off the bench, and Cardinal O'Hara graduate Kate Dessart Mager is featured among the freshmen.

"They're going to be very, very good," said Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, a former St. Joseph's star whose Irish tied defending national champion Connecticut yesterday as the choice to win the conference.

Even though his team has dominated the Big East over the last decade, Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma has had his uncomfortable moments against Villanova.

"Harry is a classic con man," said Auriemma, who grew up in Norristown. "When they're not very good, he wants you to believe they're never going to win a game, and then they figure out a way to beat people. "

Rutgers revival -- Coach Vivian Stringer has put last season's 9-20 performance, the worst in a stellar career, behind her.

The Scarlet Knights are bolstered by the addition of Cappie Pondexter, a Chicago native who was the nation's top high school player two years ago and was an academic redshirt last year.

Stringer said Pondexter's absence had a plus side: "It was important that we grew as group. "

Stringer is enthused by the addition of 6-foot-4 guard Ksenyia Shneyder, a native of the Ukraine. In January, Shalicia Hurns, a 6-3 junior forward who transferred from Purdue, will become eligible.

Notes -- Junior Diana Taurasi, the remaining starter from Connecticut's unbeaten NCAA championship team, is the coaches' preseason choice as conference player of the year. Also on the preseason first team are Notre Dame's Alicia Ratay and Jacqueline Batteast, Miami's Chanivia Broussard, and Virginia Tech's Ieva Kublina. . . . Conference officials announced a three-year agreement beginning in 2004 to play the Big East postseason tournament at the Hartford Civic Center. . . . Boston College was picked third ahead of Villanova. Virginia Tech and Rutgers rounded out the top six.

Contact Mel Greenberg at 215-854-5725 or mgreenberg@phillynews.com.

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No Big East discord among the women

At the media day, soon-to-be-gone schools did not face the disdain they have elsewhere.

Oct 31, 2003

By Mel Greenberg

INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

NEWARK, N.J. -- The Big East women's basketball coaches expressed love toward each other and pride in the recent success of conference schools at their annual media day.

Unlike the rancor among the men's teams in the conference over the upcoming defections of Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College to the Atlantic Coast Conference, coaches of the departing schools were wished the best of luck.

"I probably speak for the rest of the coaches, that we're going to miss all you guys 'cause of all that nonsense in football," Geno Auriemma, coach of two-time defending NCAA champion Connecticut, said yesterday. "We have nothing but respect for you guys and it's always going to be that way. "

Miami coach Ferne Labati and Bonnie Henrickson of Virginia Tech will be moving out of the Big East with their schools next season. Cathy Inglese will depart a year later with Boston College, as things stand for the moment.

"We love you guys," Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said. "Sometimes it gets lost in the shuffle because we are so competitive. But for the coaches that are leaving and the coaches that are remaining in the conference, they are first-class. And that means everything. "

Agnus Berenato, who is beginning her first year at Pittsburgh after 15 seasons at Georgia Tech, an ACC member, volunteered some help.

"I want to make a deal with Ferne, Bonnie and Cathy," Berenato said with a smile. "I have stacks and stacks of scouts [scouting reports]. You give me your scouts and I'll give you mine and we'll call it even. Give me a call. I'll tell you everything, especially what Georgia Tech does. "

Connecticut, with three NCAA titles in the last four seasons, has been dominant in the Big East for more than a decade, though it was upset by Villanova in last season's conference title game.

Other Big East teams have improved, though, to the point that the Big East sent a record seven members from the 14-team conference to the NCAA tournament last season.

"I really do believe if we win our league, we're automatically the best team in the country," Auriemma said. "With so many good players returning in the league, if you're one of the top four or five teams in the league this year, you have a chance to go to the Final Four. You have a chance to win the national championship.

"Maybe this year people will talk about the 'always tough Big East ,' because I'm sick of hearing about [other conferences being the best] around the country," Auriemma added.

Stringer praised Connecticut for setting a standard.
"Geno is the best until proven otherwise," Stringer said. "To be the best, you have to play the
best. "

The rankings -- Despite winning the conference championship last year, Villanova fell back to the middle of the pack at seventh in the coaches' preseason forecast following the graduation of stars Trish Juhline, Katie Davis and Nicole Druckenmiller.

Connecticut was the top preseason pick, with 13 first-place votes. Rutgers, picked to finish second among the 14 teams, received the remaining No. 1 vote. Coaches cannot vote for their teams or their players in the preseason ballot.

Senior Diana Taurasi of Connecticut, the consensus national player of the year last season, was named the preseason Big East player of the Year. Rutgers junior Cappie Pondexter was also on the Big East first team.

"I have never in my life coached a player that has it all," Stringer said of Pondexter, whom she said she believes is right behind Taurasi in terms of performance. "Dribble, shoot, score and rebounding, and now she knows when to take control [in a game] and it won't be late. "

Villanova senior Courtney Mix was named to the second team.

Contact staff writer Mel Greenberg at 215-854-5725 or mgreenberg@phillynews.com.

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There's more than just UConn

Oct 29, 2004

By Mel Greenberg

INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

NEWARK, N.J. -- The scene at past Big East Conference women's basketball media days has usually featured a rush by sportswriters to the interview table containing the main attraction: Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma and several of his players.

Yesterday, however, it took a while longer for the media crowd to build around the three-time defending national champions.

With eight Big East teams advancing to the NCAA tournament last season, there was enough interest elsewhere in the interview room to avoid a pileup at Connecticut's table.

Rutgers senior Chelsea Newton talked about coach C. Vivian Stringer's demeanor after the coach returned from a stint as an assistant coach with the Olympic gold medalists in Athens.

"She was a new person when she came back," Newton said of the famously intense coach. "I don't know if she realizes it. But we all see it.

"It was sort of weird watching her [on TV] in the assistant-coach position - not saying as much and not being the one controlling everything. "

Villanova and Connecticut players, new to this event, talked about growing into team leadership roles.

"When you're a freshman, you come in and you're initiated [by veteran players] about the way things work," Connecticut junior guard Ann Strother said.

"By the time you're a junior or senior, you know what's expected of you. When you sign the papers and say you're coming to Connecticut, you're saying you want to be a national champion. "

Said Villanova junior Liad Suez: "You don't just wake up one day [to the responsibility]. You know it's coming. You prepare yourself. But by the same token, we're so close as a team, the role of leadership hasn't fallen on just us. It's everybody pushing together. "

Despite the graduation of Diana Taurasi, Connecticut was still made an overwhelming favorite by the coaches to win the conference and its automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

That's not the way the conference chase has ended in the last several years, however.

In 2003, Villanova tripped Connecticut to win the conference crown, and last season Boston College did the same.

"What happened the last two years was absolutely tremendous [for the conference]," Auriemma said. "And I go around the country telling people, 'You know what? It's a lot harder to win the Big East than it is to win the national championship. ' And they know exactly what I'm talking about. "

Rutgers was picked fourth and Villanova was picked fifth in the coaches' poll.

Suez and Rutgers senior Cappie Pondexter, who will miss the first half of the season for unspecified personal reasons, were named to the all- Big East preseason first team.

Contact staff writer Mel Greenberg at 215-854-5725 or mgreenberg@phillynews.com.

Women's Big East

Preseason Picks

All-Conference Team
* Jacqueline Batteast, Notre Dame
* Jessalyn Deveny,
Boston College
* Yolanda Paige,
West Virginia
* Cappie Pondexter, Rutgers
* Ann Strother, Connecticut
* Liad Suez, Villanova
* Barbara Turner, Connecticut

Player of the Year
* Jacqueline Batteast,
Notre Dame

Freshman of the Year
Charde Houston,
Connecticut

Team Rankings
1. Connecticut
2. Notre Dame
3. Boston College
4. Rutgers
5. Villanova
6. West Virginia
7. Seton Hall
8. St. John's
9. Syracuse
10. Georgetown
11. Pittsburgh
12. Providence


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Reshaped Big East set for women's basketball

Oct 28, 2005

By Mel Greenberg

INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK -- Boston College is gone. Five former Conference USA members are moving in.
The expanded 16-team Big East Conference has a new look in women's basketball, and the coaches are excited.

DePaul coach Doug Bruno expressed delight yesterday to be in a conference in which Connecticut has won five NCAA titles since 1995 and Notre Dame has also captured a championship.

Connecticut coach "Geno Auriemma is right," Bruno said yesterday during the coaches' opening remarks at the conference's media day at the ESPN Zone. "The Big East prepares you to play in the NCAA tournament and compete for a national title. "

Bruno predicted that the new Big East teams would not damage the league's reputation after the defections of Boston College, Miami, and Virginia Tech to the Atlantic Coast Conference in the last few years.

Cincinnati, South Florida, Louisville, and Marquette will debut with the Blue Demons this season.
"Being in the Big East allows us to at least get into homes" for recruiting, Bruno said. "Recently, we kept losing kids to [schools in] the Big East . "

Villanova senior Liad Suez said she is not fazed by the new teams in the bigger Big East .

"Coach Joe [Mullaney Jr.] handles all the scouting," she said of the Wildcats assistant. "We worry about us, what we do, and how we execute. "

Connecticut senior Ann Strother welcomes the new competition as a change from home-and-home scheduling formats in the league.

"These teams are going to bring a lot, and it's going to be nice to not play three or four teams three or four times," Strother said. "It's going to be nice to see more teams once and only a couple of teams twice, although the coaching staff will be busy learning all about our new rivals. "
Yesterday, a team other than UConn was made the favorite in the Big East coaches' preseason poll. The No. 1 nod went to Rutgers for the first time since the Scarlet Knights joined the Big East for the 1995-96 season.

Coach C. Vivian Stringer's talent-rich squad received 11 first-place votes and 221 points, just in front of Connecticut's 215 points and five first-place votes.

Notre Dame was close behind in third, followed by DePaul and Villanova.

Stringer, whose Rutgers team has some nagging injuries at the moment, accepted the ranking as a reflection of her program's development. But she also acknowledged the team's need to excel to achieve its goal.

"We have to demonstrate we are worthy," Stringer said. "Our task right now and each year is to be better than before. "

Rutgers all-American Cappie Pondexter, who decided to return as a fifth-year senior, was named the Big East 's preseason player of the year. Scarlet Knights center Kia Vaughn earned preseason freshman-of-the-year honors.

Contact staff writer Mel Greenberg at 215-854-5725 or mgreenberg@phillynews.com.

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