Maryland coach Chris Weller was confident her team would capture at least one title at the Virginia Women's Invitational Basketball Tournament, which opened today.

"We have to be the champion eaters here without a doubt," she said.

The waitress in the pancake house agreed. "I've never seen anybody eat so much for breakfast in my life," she said. "Did you see that one girl, the skinniest one, eat 10 pancakes?"

Angie Scott could have eaten more of those buttermilk delights, but thought better of it. "Miss Weller wouldn't like it," she said. "But I do love pancakes."

Scott was right about Weller. She wouldn't have liked it, especially since she is on a diet, trying to lose 15 pounds to set an example for them.

Overeating was just one of the worries Weller had entering this major tournament, being hosted by the University of Virginia. The Terrapins had lost their last two games after seven straight easy wins and the coach thought they were out of shape and too docile. So she had worked them hard the past week.

"Maybe things have come too fast for us," Weller said. "Everything is changing, everything is so new. Most of my worries don't have to do with strategy. It's the little things."

This trip was an opportunity for her to regroup and quiet the turmoil. "It's like we are starting a new season beginning today," she said.

For a coach in a program like Maryland's, which is trying to catch up quickly with the elite of women's basketball, each day of the season seems to be full of little surprises. Everything the players experience in their drive for a national ranking is new, and Weller is never really sure how they will cope with it.

"Take this tournament last year," she said. "N.C. State came out in these beautiful warmup uniforms and the eyes of my girls opened wide. Thank goodness we weren't playing them or we would have been done right there.

"Really, the warmups were worth 15 points, because we didn't have any. We didn't even have home and away uniforms last year. We were the only one in the tournament without them."

This year Maryland has warmup outfits and new uniforms - one set for home and one set for away. "I poured my money into equipment this year," Weller said. "Next year, we can spend it on trips."

Other problems aren't as easy to solve. For example, the players still find these overnight journeys (Maryland will stay here through Saturday) new and exciting. That sometimes hinders their performances.

"When we upset N.C. State here last year, we celebrated so much we didn't get much sleep that night," admitted star guard Tara Heiss. "But we had to play North Carolina for the championship the next afternoon. We weren't used to getting ready that fast for another game.I think that's why we lost."

Even sleeping four to a room or having to ride 2 1/2 hours in a crowded station wagon to get here hasn't dampened the players' enthusiasm. Weller called a 9 a.m. practice today and everyone showed up so early she was able to take the court at 3:35.

"This is the direction women's basketball should go," said Scott, one of four seniors on the team. "When I first came here (from McKinley High) we hardly made anything but quick trips. This way, you can relax more and concentrate more on the games.

"But I don't think it would be good to have too many trips, like the men. You miss too much school."

Reminded that the men's team also flies everywhere, including to Charlottesville usually, Scott laughed.

"They are too pampered anyway," she said. "Managers carry their luggage and all. That's crazy."

Heiss agreed. "Did you ever see the men's playbook? It's so stupid. I mean, it says stuff like, 'When you are sent in, you report first to the scorer's table.' Anybody knows that."

Both Scott and Heiss were members of the Maryland women's team two years ago that received the first taste of big-time athletics by playing national power Immaculata on television. The Terrapins were embarrassed in that contest, which Scott says never should have been played.

"We weren't ready for it," she said. "Everything was low-key and all of a sudden we were being disrupted. The pressure was incredible."

Now there is a different type of pressure. Maryland was considered a potential national power for the first time this year and the players suddenly realized people expected them to produce a flawless record. And they started to believe they could do it.

"We won our first seven games so easy," said Heiss, "that it got to a point where we figured if we showed up, we'd win another. We weren't running in practice, we weren't pushing ourselves. It was all so new, being ranked and having everyone getting up for us every game."

But those two onesided losses in a row ended the complacency.

"Miss Weller might look nice but she can be tough," said Scott. "She's been working us hard, really hard. It's helping. This is the best shape we've been in all year."

Things were different last season. Weller was an interim coach and the player consistently played well trying to save her job. They succeeded, but this year's team, with the addition of two highly recruited freshmen and three transfer, isn't nearly as closely knit.

"I added it up and figured out that I have 10 girls who have been starters in college," said Weller. "Now some of them have to sit down at the beginning of games.

"I've never seen a bunch like last year's. There was something about them that wouldn't let them give up. This year, we are having trouble blending everyone in as quickly."

As a result, Weller is nervous. She wants the Maryland program to be on the level of those at Delta State and Immaculata, but she isn't sure her players know what it takes "in their heads" to make the climb.

"I just want to be around the help them get there," Weller said with a laugh. "The players know I'm nervous, so they are nervous too. This is no lark, they've got to realize that, and maybe they finally do.

"Otherwise, it's going to be a long trip home."