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Shepherd women's basketball team aiming higher

November 16, 2007|By BOB PARASILITI

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - The Shepherd University women's basketball team is refocusing its aim.

Usually, the Rams are calibrating for the baskets they need to make it to the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament.

This year, Shepherd is shooting for the stars.

The Rams open the season tonight against Holy Family - which finished 29-3 last season - in the opening round of the Golden Bear Classic at Kutztown University with the goal of ending the season at unprecedented heights.

"This is my sixth year here and it's my best shot by far to run it all and win the conference and finish ranked in the region," said coach Jodie Runner on Thursday at the Rams annual media day festivities. "We have to be consistent."

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Just sheer experience has added some extra rose-tinting to Runner's glasses.

Shepherd returns six seniors from last year's 18-11 team, has had two NCAA Division I players transfer into the program and has added a pair of quality freshman, including Boonsboro graduate Jerica Hewett, to enhance the outlook.

The seniors cover all the positions as the foundation and the influx of new talent adds depth, giving the Rams about everything they need to make a run ... with one minor exception.

"We don't know who is going to be starting for us," Runner said. "We were going to sit down and figure it out after our practice at Kutztown (Thursday). We want to put the best combination out there to get started."

Runner has plenty of talents to rummage through on her shelf.

It starts with guards Rebecca Frece and Tiffany Acker. Molly Land and Nylia Zamora flank the backcourt off the wings, while Laura Harkins and Michelle Van Dyke are back in the post positions.

Shepherd added experience inside when 6-foot-1 juniors Colleen Shumaker and Katie Warehime transferred in from George Mason and Fairleigh Dickinson. Then Hewett comes in with energy and outside shooting as a freshman.

The total package is raising the expectations for the Rams.

"The big objective is to win 20 games," Runner said. "I told you that last year and we only won 18. That was great, but it was a disappointment because there were five games we should have won and let get away. That could have been the difference of being rated in the region."

A top-six ranking could result in an invitation to the NCAA Tournament for the Rams and the WVIAC, which has sent as many as four teams to recent national brackets. And that would mean Shepherd finished in the top four in the conference.

Runner's first five Shepherd teams have all finished between the sixth and eighth seed, earned a home game for the first round of the conference tournament and then faced one of the top seeds if it advanced to Charleston for the quarterfinals.

"The big picture is we want to win the conference," she said. "It's crazy that the tournament outweighs the regular season, but we want to be one of the higher seeds that doesn't face the top seed in the second round. If we can do that and get past the second round, anything can happen."

Shepherd enters the season slightly off the radar, rated sixth in the WVIAC's preseason coaching poll.

"People are underestimating us," Runner said. "They don't know about the two inside transfers and how talented our freshmen are."

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