Georgetown enjoyed its best single-season turnaround ever and was among the 10 most improved teams in Division I last season. The Hoyas doubled their win total from 1997-98, when they were 9-19, and made the second postseason appearance in their history.

However, three starters graduated, including two post players. Still, Coach Pat Knapp is optimistic this team can be competitive in the Big East Conference, which had three teams in the preseason top 10 -- No. 1 Connecticut, No. 4 Rutgers and No. 8 Notre Dame -- and another in the top 20, No. 19 Boston College.

"When I think about this team, I think we have strong enough and experienced enough guard play to make a run at one of the top four spots in the league," Knapp said. "I think that is very credible and achievable, but an awesome task at the same time."

The back court, led by four former Washington area high school players, will be the team's strength. Katie Smrcka-Duffy (Madison) averaged 17.3 points per game in Big East play. Lesley Walker (Wheaton) started 21 games as a freshman last season and was second on the team with 47 steals. She gained more experience this summer playing for a Big East all-star team that toured Europe.

Smrcka-Duffy and Walker will be joined by Jewel Snowden and Shawntese Charles. Snowden is a strong, tough defender who was a Conference USA all-freshman team pick before transferring from Cincinnati. Charles was a first-team All-Met last season.

If only the Hoyas were so deep in the front court. They return just two players who have experience. Reserve forward Nathalie Bourdereau averaged 14 minutes a game last season. Senior center Danielle Hurley missed 11 games because of injuries. Both must be more productive for Georgetown to be successful. They also must get help from three freshmen, one of whom is Suzy Bendegue, a 6-10 native of Cameroon who is the tallest women's player in Big East history.

Data

Last season: 18-12, 10-8 Big East Conference (Women's NIT first round).

Coach: Patrick Knapp (14th season, 174-191; 16th season overall, 219-230).

Top returning players: G Katie Smrcka-Duffy, 5-9, Jr. (20 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3.5 apg, second-team all-Big East); G Lesley Walker, 5-9, Soph. (5.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg); F Nathalie Bourdereau, 6-3, Jr. (3.6 ppg, 2.7 rpg).

Key Departures: G Melba Chambers (13.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg); F Sylita Thomas (12.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg).

New faces: G Jewel Snowden, 5-6, Soph. (Bullis School, transfer from Cincinnati); G Shawntese Charles, 5-9, Fr. (St. John's High School); C Suzy Bendegue, 6-10, Fr. (Newport School); F Nok Duany, 6-0, Fr. (Bloomington, Ind.); F Santia Jackson, 6-0, Fr. (Chicago); G Joi Irby, 5-8, Fr. (Richmond).

Schedule

November

20 vs. Fresno*, 11 a.m.

21 Minn. or Ball St.*, 12 or 2

23 Mount St. Mary's, 7

27 Lafayette, 2

December

1 at George Mason, 7

4 at Tulane, 3

6 Sacred Heart, 7

9 at St. John's, 7:30

11 Long Island, 4

19 at American, 2

30 at Duke, 7

January

4 Connecticut, 7

8 Notre Dame, noon

12 Rutgers, 8

14 at Fla. International, 7

19 at Miami, 7:30

22 St. John's, 5

26 at West Virginia, 7

29 at Notre Dame, 7:30

February

5 Villanova, 3

9 at Seton Hall, 7

12 at Syracuse, 2

16 at Boston College, 7

19 Miami, noon

23 Providence, 8

26 at Pittsburgh, 7

29 West Virginia, 8

March

4-7 Big East tournament in Storrs, Conn.

*Regal Classic in Minneapolis