Guard Harris Shoulders Load for Seahawks' Women

It has taken a bit longer than she thought it would, but St. Mary's junior guard Felicia Harris finally has a championship team, and a program's budding reputation, to carry on her surgically repaired but capable shoulders.

After one season (1997-98) at the Naval Academy, three weeks at Morgan State, two reconstructive shoulder operations and one year with the Seahawks, the Largo High graduate has emerged as the leader on a team that has to fill the void left by Erica Pearson, the all-American center who graduated last spring after leading St. Mary's to its first two Capital Athletic Conference titles.

Harris said she is ready for the challenge.

"We have a different kind of team this year without Erica," Harris said. "The team is going to feed off me, and I'm ready for it. I know I'm going to have two [defenders] on me most of the time. I'll just have to raise my game a little more. Once they realize I have such a good team behind me, they'll have to stop concentrating on me so much."

Harris and the Seahawks have picked up where they left off last season, winning their first three games by an average margin of more than 32 points. In Pearson's absence, the focus of the offense has shifted somewhat to the perimeter, and Harris has embraced her expanded role, scoring 25 points per game. With strong complementary performances from junior guard Jen Francis and the experienced front court of senior Yvonne Heffernan and junior Tenille McCatty (Harris's classmate at Largo), the Seahawks are in a good position to continue their rise to respectability.

Harris has found a home at St. Mary's after stops at two other schools. She said she chose to leave Annapolis after realizing military life was not for her and quickly became unhappy at Morgan State the following fall.

At St. Mary's, she has a 4.0 grade-point average in economics, enjoys the close-knit campus and played well enough in the second half of last season (after recovering from her surgery) to earn second-team all-CAC honors. And she takes the reputation of her school's basketball program very seriously.

"St. Mary's didn't have much of a basketball history before Erica. She kind of built the history on her own," Harris said. "We need to send a message now that winning last year wasn't luck, so they can finally give us credit. If you have someone night in and night out getting the job done, that will have people coming to watch us play. That's what Erica started, and I'm just trying to pick up where she left off."

Shann Hart, the Seahawks' fourth-year coach, says she is as confident in Harris as she is in her supporting cast. "The mentality of the kids is far different now than it was three or four years ago," Hart said. "Coming from a program that had never seen success, now having won back-to-back championships, [produces] a totally different mind-set in the athletes."

Harris is determined to maintain that winning attitude. She is as comfortable penetrating for a layup as she is shooting a three-pointer, and she has worked tirelessly over the summer on her mid-range shot. Hart will also look to her as a leader.

Harris "brings experience to the floor, she brings a competitive nature, she's going to give you all she has," Hart said. "I'm sure a number of our freshmen will look up to her."

The Seahawks began their league schedule last night against Marymount, and will host Catholic at 6 p.m. Saturday. Harris is eager to put her stamp on the team and to challenge a conference that has gotten stronger over the past few years.

"The last three games have really boosted our confidence and gotten us ready for league play," she said. "We know what we need to do to make up for Erica. We play a different game now, and we know what our strengths are. . . . I think we've adjusted well and our freshmen are really composed. Once we get by that first league game, we'll be okay."

The Seahawks At a Glance

Men

* Last season: 13-13 overall, 7-7 Capital Athletic Conference. Lost to Goucher in CAC tournament semifinal.

* Coach: Alfred Johnson (first season).

* Players to watch: Junior G Matt Conklin (4.8 ppg, team-high 75 assists); sophomore G Brandon Jones (12.9 ppg); junior G-F Sheldon Taylor (Northern High graduate, 14.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg, second-team all-CAC).

* Outlook: The Seahawks are a young team (just two seniors) hoping to put together three straight .500 or better seasons for the first time since 1976-1979. Lack of depth could be a factor. Taylor's front-court play, three-point shooting from Conklin and junior G Todd Nicolini, and a fundamentally sound supporting cast will keep St. Mary's competitive.

Women

* Last season: 20-8 overall, 10-4 Capital Athletic Conference. Won second straight CAC tournament. Lost to Gallaudet in NCAA Division III tournament first round.

* Coach: Shann Hart (fourth season, 54-28).

* Players to watch: Junior G Felicia Harris (second team all-CAC, 19.5 ppg); junior F Tenille McCatty (10.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg); freshman F Katryn Costenbader (35 points, 11 rebounds in debut).

* Outlook: Talented team will seek to spread the scoring responsibilities in the absence of graduated all-American Erica Pearson, who was a dominant post presence. Harris and junior Jen Francis can alternate between point and shooting guard, and McCatty, Costenbader and senior F Yvonne Heffernan have performed well down low. Will face tough competition in conference, but will return all but Heffernan next season.

* Schedule and ticket information (both teams): 301-862-0320.

CAPTION: St. Mary's College junior Felicia Harris, right, is averaging 25 points per game for the defending CAC champion Seahawks.

CAPTION: Felicia Harris and the Seahawks won their first three games by an average of more than 32 points.