Teresa Edwards sprinted ahead of her teammates on the U.S. women's senior national team halfway through a two-hour practice this past week at George Washington University. After beating her teammates up and down the court, she gave them high-fives as they got ready for another drill.

"I just love the game, working on the game, getting better at the game," Edwards said after practice as she sat with ice packs on her knees. "When it comes time to perform . . . good things have happened for me."

Edwards, 35, has been a member of the U.S. women's basketball team in four Olympics, winning three gold medals and a bronze. Anticipating an appearance in the 2000 Olympics next fall, she is one of 12 players on the squad that will play against various college and professional women's teams the next few months to get ready for Sydney.

Last month, the U.S. team went 7-0 against pro teams from Australia, Poland and Brazil. Last night, the team played an exhibition game against a squad of WNBA players in Hartford.

"It's hard to assess where we are because we are just beginning," Edwards said. "We're going to go through a lot of difficult situations which hopefully will allow us to gel and become closer because we're going to need a lot of chemistry once we get to Australia next year."

Edwards was on a similar squad of U.S. players in 1995-96 who played together for nearly a year prior to the 1996 Olympic Games. That team, which went on to win the gold in Atlanta, compiled a 60-0 record.

Unlike that team, this squad will play together for the next few months, then disband in the spring for the four-month WNBA season that begins in June, and reassemble just a few days before the Olympics start Sept. 15.

"That is a big challenge . . . to come out of that [WNBA] season healthy, not too tired and to go to Australia, a foreign land, and come back with the gold," Edwards said. ". . . But, I think we have some great players that can get it done."

For Edwards, the seven games last month were her first professional experience since the American Basketball League folded last December. One of the league's original players, Edwards led the ABL in scoring (21 points per game), was fourth in assists (5.6) and third in steals (2.9) before it disbanded.

Edwards did not join many of her fellow ABL players in signing with a WNBA team this past season.

"I was offered a nonnegotiable contract that I didn't like," she said. Former ABL players were offered salaries much less than what they had been earning.

During the layoff, Edwards said she stayed in shape by playing against men in pickup games in Atlanta, where she was living.

U.S. Coach Nell Fortner said Edwards "brings a tremendous amount of experience and confidence to all of us, players and coaches alike. . . . She has been with us for a long time. Everybody knows her. She just adds to the core."

Her teammates said they look to Edwards for her leadership abilities.

"She is our rock," said guard Dawn Staley, who played on the 1996 Olympic team and in the ABL before joining the Charlotte Sting this past season. "Nothing really fazes her. That's the type of leader that we need, someone we can count on no matter what."

But Edwards said the 2000 Olympics may be her last.

"I think five will be a good number to retire on," she said. "And a gold medal would be more than perfect."