The University of Maryland women's basketball team begins pursuit of a national title today with an opening round tournament game in the Mid-Atlantic Region of the Eastern Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women.
The Terps, 15-4 and ranked 13th in the nation, will face West Chester (Pa.) State (7-9) today at 5 p.m. in Pearson Hall on the campus of Temple University.
The top two finishers in the 16-team tourney will advance to the national tournament beginning March 23 at the University of Minnesota.
"Any team lucky enough to get out of this tournament will do well in the national," said Maryland head coach Chris Weller of a field with four topteams. "I would be hesitant to pick any favorites.I think anybody, including the unseeded squads, has a chance to make the final."
The team with the best chance is perennial power Immaculata, the defending regional champs.
The Mighty Macs enter the tournament top seeded with a 23-3 record and the No. 2 ranking in the country.
First-round matchups include Immaculata vs. Rutgers (13-7), second-seeded Montclair State (21-2, third-ranked in country) vs. East Stroudsburg (6-6), third-seeded St. Joseph's (19-2, ninth-ranked) vs. William Patterson (13-4), and fourth-seeded Cheyney State (15-5) vs Delaware (6-7).
In other action, Pittsburg (18-6) faces Lock Haven State (11-7), Edinboro State (17-7) takes on host Temple (2-11) and Penn State (12-2) meets Slippery Rock (11-7).
The biggest surprise in the seedings was the placement of unranked Cheyney State ahead of Maryland.
"The seeding doesn't really affect me one way or another," Weller claimed, "but I'd have preferred to be in the opposite bracket from Immaculata."
"I also think we drew the toughest of the unseeded teams in West Chester State. What do I know about them? Not enough. They're terribly tall and they're had an inconsistent season, but they are playing very well right now. They took St. Joesph's into overtime and they've beaten Pittsburgh, the sixth seed."
The Terrapins will be led by do-everything points guard Tara Heiss, a 5-foot-6 junior who leads the team in scoring (14.8 per game) and assists (4.9). Heiss was a third-team all-America selection in the preseason. but, according to Weller, "We expect her to be on the first team postseason."
Junior forward Debbie Jones (5-11) tops the team in rebounding with 8.9 a contest. Sophomore forward Debbie Stewart is the second-leading scorer with a 12-point average, and 6-foot senior Angie Scott, the team's top defender, plays the pivot, spelled by 6-5 freshman Krystal Kimrey.
"I think we're playing really well right now," Weller said.
"We're coming off two big wins and everybody got to play in the last one."
Those two victories were 73-65 over then fifth-ranked North Carolina State and 83-68 over North Carolina.