News With Commentary by TSL Staff

Wednesday, January 9, 2002
by Will Stewart,

Hokie Women Break Into Top 25

Facing a pivotal matchup with Boston College tonight in Blacksburg, the Tech women's basketball team has entered the Top 25 for the first time this year, landing in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Poll at #24.

Meanwhile, Boston College is #24 in the AP Poll (#26 in the Coaches' poll), where the Hokies are ranked #30. The two teams fare even better in the RPI ratings, with Boston College #16 and Tech #20 (though the linked ratings have Tech's record incorrectly listed at 10-2).

Both teams are 11-2 overall and 2-0 in the Big East, standing in a five-way tie for first place in the conference with UConn (16-0), Villanova (8-4), and Notre Dame (8-5). UConn is obviously the class of the league, but among the other four 2-0 teams, only BC and Tech have fewer than four losses.

So no matter which way you slice it, this game is huge. It will give the winner a big boost in the league standings and RPI ratings, which are important for NCAA Tournament seeding later on.

"A big game, absolutely," Tech coach Bonnie Henrickson told Aaron McFarling of the Roanoke Times. As detailed in McFarling's article, Tech's fellow contenders for second place in the Big East behind UConn have been hurt by injuries and graduations. The Hokies, playing unexpectedly well this season despite the loss of long-time starters Tere Williams and Amy Wetzel to graduation, sense an opportunity to take advantage and make a move towards finishing #2 in the Big East.

To recover from the loss of Williams and Wetzel, the Hokies needed some players to step up, and they have, most notably sophomore center Ieva Kublina. After averaging 7.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per game last year in a freshman season that had its high points (she confounded Notre Dame All-American Ruth Riley in the game at Cassell Coliseum with her outside range) and low points (she went 0-14 against Boston College), Kublina has stepped up in scoring (13.2 ppg), rebounding (7.4 rpg), and blocks (32). She has won Big East Player of the Week twice already this season and easily leads the league in blocks.

But while Kublina has drawn most of the attention and most of the raves, one key reason the Hokies haven't skipped a beat from prior seasons is the play of senior forward Nicole Jones. Jones showed great promise as a freshman (7.3 ppg) and sophomore (9.7 ppg), but then fell off a cliff statistically last year, when her scoring average dropped to 5.1 points per game and she picked up just 3.4 rebounds per game.

This year is a different story. Jones is averaging 11.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, both career highs, and she couldn't have picked a better time.

When you throw in Sarah Hicks (leading the team with 13.4 ppg) and Chrystal Starling (12.1 ppg), the Hokies have four players averaging in double figures. Last year, only two players -- Williams (15.2) and Starling (10.2) -- accomplished that feat.

But last year's team had more balanced scoring overall. There was less of a dropoff from the top four scorers to the rest. This year, among the seven players who have played in all 13 games so far, the top four carry most of the scoring load.

So they're arguably not as deep, but one thing is for sure: this team has chemistry, and the players they needed to step up have done so. If they can avoid injuries and pull off key wins tonight, as well as later this season on the road at Notre Dame and Villanova, the Hokies will be on track.

Game time is 7 pm at Cassell Coliseum. It is not televised, so to see it, you'll need to be there.

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