The Lady Monarchs who are back from last year's 34-2 team--the
most successful since Old Dominion's 1985 NCAA championship
squad--all agree: They didn't aim high enough. Yes, they got to
the national title game last spring, but they lost 68-59 to
Tennessee and "played as if we were just happy to be there,"
says coach Wendy Larry.
"We said we wanted to get to the Final Four last season," point
guard Ticha Penicheiro says. "Now we want to win it."
Old Dominion just about has to take home the championship to
justify Penicheiro's decision to return to the Lady Monarchs
this season. An All-America from Figueira da Foz, Portugal,
Penicheiro averaged 10.9 points, 7.8 assists and 4.5 steals last
year and electrified the Old Dominion Field House with her
no-look passes. The affection was mutual. Penicheiro, who got
her communications degree in August, making her eligible for
another season under a new NCAA rule governing partial
qualifiers, passed up the opportunity to play in the ABL, the
WNBA or a European pro league for another chance at an NCAA title.
Most of the Lady Monarchs spent the summer on campus in Norfolk,
dividing up to play on different teams in a local summer league
and then coming together for serious weight room workouts. When
practices officially began in October, the sessions buzzed with
midseason intensity. "Our practices are so competitive, I could
see someone breaking a nose," says forward Mery Andrade, who
averaged 11.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game last year.
Newcomers aren't shown much mercy, either. "Just because you're
learning something new, there's no reason not to work hard,"
says 6'3" senior center Nyree Roberts, Old Dominion's
second-leading scorer (17.0 points per game) last season and the
Lady Monarch most likely to scold another for not working hard.
Old Dominion's biggest challenge will be filling the void left
by the departure of forward Clarisse Machanguana, last year's
top scorer (19.9) and second-leading rebounder (7.4). Junior
college transfer Emmora Keenan, a 6'5" New Zealander, will try
to take up some of the slack, but holdover players will have to
increase their productivity. Penicheiro worked on her outside
shooting all summer, as did Aubrey Eblin, a junior guard who led
the Colonial Athletic Association in three-point-shooting
Sophomore guard Natalie Diaz also should contribute, as she did
in the national semifinal win over Stanford, in which she scored
a season-high 10 points. A Native American from Needles, Calif.,
Diaz has a tribal tattoo on her left arm that tells her life
story. Last year, she added a basketball and a moon to the
tattoo. Next year, she would love to add something emblematic of
an NCAA title. --JODY BERGER
COLOR PHOTO: JIM GUND WITH HER DAZZLING PASSING ABILITY, PENICHEIRO IS MOST DANGEROUS WHEN SHE'S DOUBLE-TEAMED [Ticha Penicheiro in game]
Returning Starters [Three]
Points per Game '96-97 84.4
PPG by All Returning Players 57.6