Using her four-inch height advantage, Heidi Burge extended her right arm above the head of 6-foot-1 center Shalonda Enis, hitting her lightly on the head before deflecting a pass intended for Enis and sending the ball out of bounds.

That kind of defensive play, even in a training camp practice drill, is what Burge, a forward, hopes will assure her return to the Mystics this season.

"I think my defense is one of my biggest assets," Burge said. "I think that is a positive for me right now because if you look at our coach, what's the number one thing she's emphasizing? It's defense. So if I can be a solid stopper on defense and grab the rebound, boxing out players" she may make the team.

"Right now, it's really hard to say who will make the team," said Burge, one of five post players trying to earn a spot on the 11-player roster. Mystics Coach Nancy Darsch has until June 9, one day before the season opener, to trim the 16-player training camp roster.

"Heidi gives us great athleticism at the post," said Mystics assistant coach Melissa McFerrin. "She gives us great defensive intensity and the ability to run the floor."

In the Mystics' preseason game against Utah on May 22 at MCI Center, Burge had five points, three rebounds and one steal in 11 minutes. Last season, she averaged 6.7 points and 3.3 rebounds in 16.7 minutes over 30 games.

Burge, 27, said she feels stronger in training camp this year after undergoing three months of physical therapy on her lower back, which she injured during the last month of last season. Unlike most WNBA players, she did not play abroad during the winter season -- the first time in seven years she had not done so.

"I have never taken this much time off," she said. "I tell you, it helped me because I was completely away from the sport. . . . I came back stronger and harder. I feel much more stable."

Still, she said she felt signs of rust when training camp opened May 14.

"It took me a few days to get going," she said.

Burge, who starred with her identical twin sister Heather at the University of Virginia from 1989 to 1993, said she likes Darsch's coaching style, which "goes in hand with what I have been taught and how I approach a team effort."

Burge's height also may be an asset on a team that lacked a dominant front line last season. She is one of four Mystics who is 6-5. The others are veteran center Alessandra Santos de Oliveira; Jennifer Whittle, the Mystics' fourth-round draft choice from the Australian women's pro league; and rookie Heather Owen, a Stanford graduate who played in France last season.

"When you start looking at teams like Utah with players 7-2, 6-10 and a couple of 6-5, all of a sudden height, along with versatility, becomes very important," McFerrin said.

Mystics Notes: Guard Nikki McCray dislocated her left ring finger at practice yesterday. She was taken to George Washington University Hospital for examination. X-rays were negative and McCray participated in an evening practice session. . . .

Darsch did not attend practice yesterday following the death Sunday of her mother, Arline Darsch, of Plymouth, Mass. It is uncertain when she will return. The Mystics travel to Knoxville, Tenn., Thursday for a preseason game against Houston.