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Lady Bison roam free over MEAC pretenders

(Published February 25, 2002)

By BRANDON M. BICKERSTAFF

Special to the Common Denominator

In college basketball, dynasties are usually created with a combination of talented players, a winning attitude, strong recruiting and superb coaching.

For the Howard University womenís basketball program, the formula has proven true once again. This yearís team has all the earmarks of a dynasty in the making.

Howard is in its second season under head coach Cathy Parson, who guided the Lady Bison to a 21-10 overall record that included both the regular season and tournament championships in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and an appearance in the 2001 NCAA Tournament.

Using a high-tempo press-and-run style of play as well as a decided size advantage over most of their opponents, the Lady Bison have dominated the rest of the MEAC again this season, defeating conference foes by an average of 18 points en route to a 14-1 record at press time.

Howard also boasts last yearís national rebound leader and MEAC Player of the Year, 6-foot-3 senior center Andrea Gardner, rapidly emerging sophomore guard Simone Agee and last yearís MEAC Rookie of the Year, Essence Coggins.

According to Parson, depth has made all the difference in the teamís stronghold on the MEAC this season.

"One thing that we have enjoyed is the luxury of having depth on the bench," Parson said. "I have 13 players. On any given night, Player 13 can have a big night. When someone is injured, someone else can step up and play a big role. Depth has definitely been the key."

Adding to the teamís depth is junior Courtney Kirk, a 6-foot-2 multi-talented forward, who can be equally effective as either a deadly shooter from the perimeter or as a post-up player down low.

Then there is junior guard Asia Petty, who has developed a reputation as one of the deadliest perimeter shooters in the conference, and sophomore power forward Shauna Ruglass, who brings a strong rebounding and inside presence off the bench.

Even other teams in the conference have recognized Howardís strength this season.

"Itís hard to beat them when theyíre hitting from the outside," said Coppin State head coach Derek Brown. "And then you have to deal with Gardner underneath, also. So thatís just really tough to defend, when any number of girls can drop a 3-pointer on you."

After being ousted in the first round of last yearís NCAA Tournament by Iowa State, Howard is hungry for another chance at the Big Dance. Despite struggling early in the season against non-conference competition, Parson feels that her team is definitely up to the challenge of repeating as MEAC regular season and tournament champions. The Lady Bison hold a 2Ĺ-game lead over Hampton and South Carolina State in the MEAC.

"Thereís nothing this team is not capable of doing," Parson said confidently. "We just have to understand how precious, how important each possession is."

Parson adds that the teamís success late in the season will depend heavily on the play of her three-headed point guard rotation of seniors Nicole Jackson and Danielle Shelton, and freshman Daisha Hicks.

With last yearís graduation of all-conference guard Chanell Washington and Coggins struggling with a knee injury early in the season, Howard has been left searching for consistency at the point guard position. Turnovers have been the teamís demon, despite its dominance in the conference.

"I believe we have grown," Parson said. "But I also believe we need them (point guards) to step up and lead this team by not being as concerned with shooting as with on-the-ball defense. Our success hinges on the play of our point guards."

When Parson took over the Lady Bison program, there was speculation that the team would struggle under its new head coach. But Parson said the teamís early success has come with her playersí trust.

"Iím very confident in our ability to bring forth something good," Parson said. "Iíve allowed (the players) to be free, creative, work hard and play out of spirit. Once they saw that what Iím showing them works, things got a lot easier. Iíve been blessed to be in this position."

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator