The consensus among coaches at the Big East women’s basketball media day two weeks ago in Newark, N.J., was that the conference will build from an incredibly strong 2002-03 season with an even better collective performance this year. This was a bold proclamation, considering that the Big East already holds national champion Connecticut, as well as powerhouse teams Villanova, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame. While this claim may strike fear into the hearts of the Southeast Conference or the Big Ten, it may be even more alarming for Georgetown, a team that is forced to contend with these heavyweights.

The Hoyas, however, may yet show that they are another reason why the Big East is so strong. With a strong schedule ahead of them and a lack of height, the Hoyas will have to work hard to earn or surpass the ninth spot that the coaches chose for them in the preseason poll.

“The way I look at it, they picked us 11th last year and we finished ninth. They picked us ninth this year and if we finish seventh, we can go to the NCAA tournament,” head coach Pat Knapp said.

Georgetown’s greatest strength will come from inside: senior Rebekkah Brunson, a fierce and athletic power forward who, standing at 6-3, has become one of the top five players in the conference. Selected unanimously to the preseason All-Big East first team, Brunson has emerged after three seasons as a dominant force around the basket, combining a resolute spirit with size and strength to become a dangerous scorer and a solid defender, leading the conference in rebounds last year with an average of 10.7 rebounds per game and garnering 16 double-doubles in 29 games. She also received a number of accolades, such as being named to the John R. Wooden Women’s Basketball Award Preseason All-American Team, an honor only 30 players in the country receive. She was also named to the preseason “Wade Watch” list, which looks at candidates for the Wade Trophy, an award for best women’s basketball player of the year. On top of all this, Brunson has the added experience of having competed on the silver medal-winning Team USA at this summer’s Pan-American Games.

“She’s dangerous because she can score with or without the ball. She is great at grabbing offensive rebounds and blocking shots. She is also very difficult to defend because she can score from the inside or the outside,” Seton Hall head coach Phyllis Mangina said. “If she weren’t a unanimous selection for the conference first team, I would question every coach in the room.”

Despite the accolades, Brunson remains self-effacing and focused on the team’s success instead her own personal achievements.

“I just want to do well for the team, that’s my main goal this season. I want to see everyone work hard because we’ve got a lot of players that have come together and have worked on their game. Hopefully we’ll do well together as a group,” Brunson said.

While Brunson will provide the team with leadership and a formidable presence in the paint, the departure of forwards Zsuzsanna Horvath (MSB ’03) and Nok Duany (MSB ’03) will leave the Hoyas without a tested partner for Brunson. Junior forward Varda Tamoulianis, a lanky 6-3 center, saw only a little over six and a half minutes per game. Averaging 2.0 points per game and 1.8 rebounds per game, Tamoulianis will need to take her game to a new level in order to be an effective starter.

“The problem with the lineup is that it’s small. We’ll need good minutes from Varda. Size does help, but the players taking their place are quicker and they play better defense. They also have to be tougher,” Knapp said. “They are different types of players than we had last year, and we’re going to use them differently.”

Sophomore forward Carmen Bruce started in many games last year and is an effective swing player, equally talented at pulling down rebounds and draining three-point shots. At 5-10, she does not have the height of most forwards, but she is a quick and aggressive player with versatility. She may be able to compensate with her all-around skills and will see a high number of minutes this season, thereby developing into a threat to Georgetown’s opponents regardless of which position she plays.

“Carmen has improved her body and her athleticism 100 percent this season,” Knapp said. “She took advantage of the summer and preseason to work on her game and is now a much more explosive player.”

Returning as the team’s point guard and leading outside shooter is junior Mary Lisicky. Always dangerous from behind the three-point line, Lisicky nailed 72 threes last year and finished with the third-highest three-point percentage in the Big East. On top of that, she also finished in the top 10 for highest assist-to-turnover ratio.

Four players returning from last year will also try to help out the Hoyas on the court. Senior guard Sarah Jenkins had injuries hampering her last year, but she has a knack for finding the basketball from outside and will help out around the perimeter and in the wings. Freshman guard Leslie Tyburski will also gun for more time on the court as well, vying with Jenkins for a spot in the backcourt. Senior guard Narumol Berggren often filled in for Lisicky at point and will continue improving her dribbling and ball handling skills in order to see more playing time.

Taken together, the players constitute a multi-faceted team. While last year the team had height, this year’s players have more speed and depth in their game and promise to bring a quicker tempo and more varied scoring opportunities on offense. On defense, the team will be able to give more all-around coverage and have a strong asset in Brunson’s rebounding abilities, although its greatest weakness, according to Knapp, will lie in defensive rebounding.

This season, the Hoyas will show off four new faces on the court: junior guard Bethany LeSeuer who transferred from Virginia and sat out last season due to NCAA rules, freshman guard Kate Carlin and freshman forwards Tenisha Davidson and Amber Dempsey.

“Kate Carlin is a step ahead right now,” Knapp said about the freshman’s progress. “Amber Dempsey had knee surgery in Dec. 2002 and has only been back for eight months now. She’s come along slow. She’s going to play her best basketball as a junior and senior, but we’ll get from her now what we can. It’s hard to expect them to play like veterans from the beginning, but we expect that they will have improved a lot by late January or February.”

While the team may have a stronger, more rounded presence this season, the competition has also developed during the offseason, and the Big East boasts four teams in the top 25 in the AP preseason poll. Connecticut returns most of its top players for star senior guard Diana Taurasi’s final year with the Huskies. Rutgers and Virginia Tech have exceptional teams fueled by star players: junior guard Cappie Pondexter and senior forward Ieva Kublina, respectively. Even midlevel teams have potential, and Georgetown sits in a group of five or six teams that, while not at the very top of the list, still radiate talent and will battle this season for prominence alongside the nationally-ranked squads.

“Each game with everybody in the middle of the pack is very, very critical,” Knapp said. “Between the fifth and 10th teams, things can flip-flop very quickly.”

Mangina added to this, saying, “It’s definitely a volatile place to be. Those games should be very close, and they will all be important to win. It will also help any of those teams if they can upset one of the top four or five teams in the conference. “

That the Big East, despite the shakeups that endanger the conference in the near future, can yield such a bumper crop of strong teams while other conferences also grow stronger shows that women’s basketball is thriving and developing on a national level, and the conference is helping this spur in activity and ability.

In his introductory speech at Big East women’s basketball edia Day, Commissioner Mike Tranghese said, “There are a lot of reasons for us to be excited and optimistic about this coming season. We’ve got a lot on our plate, but what we have is pretty positive.”

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