At the beginning of the season, Dave Smalley, coach of women's basketball at Navy, would have been happy to have his Mids equal last year's 13-7 record.

Despite an upgraded schedule, heavy reliance on two newcomers and a young team -- Navy started women's basketball last season -- the Mids have compiled a 16-6 mark and earned a place in the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women's small college national tournament.

Navy faces Loyola of Baltimore tonight at 7 to open the two-day Region B playoffs at the Academy. In the 9 p.m. game, Morgan Stae takes on Mount St. Mary's. Consolation and final games are at 1:30 and 3:30 Saturday.

The winner advances to next weekend's four-team Middle Atlantic Regional championship at Johnstown, Pa.

Catholic, Bowie State and George Washington also are competing in the small college tournament, at other sites.

Maryland faces an old playoff nemesis in Montclair State tonight in the second game of an AIAW large college playoff doubleheader at Cole Field House. Preceding that 9:30 p.m. contest is a 7:30 game between Penn State and St. Joseph's.

The Indians have beaten the Terps three straight times -- all in playoffs. Although Maryland suffered a 17-point setback in last season's playoff, the Terps gained a berth in the national tournament because their loss was in a regional final. Both finalists automatically qualified.

Tonight's winners, plus two from a four-team event in Newardk, Del., will play in the Region I-B tournament next weekend in Towson, Md.

"I'm very pleased with what they've done," said Smalley. "It's exciting to be in a postseason tournament. I don't know how well we'll play but at least we've made it this far."

Navy's fortunes may depend on freshman sensation Colleen Cassidy. The 5-foot-4 All-Met out of Seneca Valley High School leads the team in scoring (17.2), field-goal percentage (48.8) and assists (96).

"I expected Colleen to do pretty well" said Smalley. "But from the start to the finish of the regular season, I must say she has performed better than I thought.

"Her best quality is her court sense. She has a great ability to recognize openings and situations. And her threat to penetrate at any time against any defense and then shoot or pass off opens it up for the other players."

Smalley also cited the play of two other freshmen, forward Lynn Coe and reserve center Barbara Nester, and the steady improvement of guard Kathy Walsh, who led the Mids in scoring last season at forward.

With 5-10 freshman Lynn Coe earning a starting berth, Smalley was able to move the 5-8 Walsh to guard. The junior is second on the squad in scoring (15.7).

Navy is seeded seventh among 16 teams in the eastern quadrant of the AIAW tournament. The Mids beat Loyola by three points in the regular season, split two games with Mount St. Mary's and were beaten by four points by No. 2 seed Morgan State.

Sixth-seeded Catholic faces La Salle at Millersville (Pa.) State College in another eastern regional opening-round game tonight at 8:30. The Cardinals (16-8) may be without leading scorer Jane Connolly, who suffered severe back spasms last week against Georgetown and is "very questionable" for the La Salle game.

Also in that field are Bowie State (14-3) and Immaculata (9-8). La Salle is 12-11.

George Washington (12-8) plays Monmouth in Jersey City, N.J., in another eastern region playoff (7 p.m.). If the eighth-seeded Colonials prevail they likely would face top-seeded Seton Hall -- which opens against St. Peter's -- in Saturday's final.