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Rams look to extend success into postseason

February 27, 2008|By BOB PARASILITI

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - The Shepherd University women's basketball team made everything look as easy as a game of H-O-R-S-E for coach Jodie Runner.

Runner called her shot. Then took it. And the Rams made sure she made it, putting the pressure on the rest of the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference to match it.

From the preseason media conference all the way through last Thursday's win over Fairmont State, Runner confidently said "This is the year" for unparalleled success for the team. It was more than a feeling. It was a downright belief.

"We had six seniors this year and it was our first big recruiting class," Runner said. "They have been such a great group to work with. We teach in practice and they go out on the court and do their thing. We make the adjustments as we go."

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The Rams haven't had to make too many adjustments, except for where they now sit heading into the WVIAC tournament.

After five years of playing as the sixth, seventh or eighth seed, Shepherd is the league champion and the top seed. That gave the Rams a free pass into today's quarterfinal game at 3 p.m. against Wheeling Jesuit, skipping Monday's dreaded play-in games.

The semifinals will be played on Friday and finals on Saturday. By winning the bye, Shepherd avoided having to play five games - including four in the tournament - in eight days.

This is the second time the Rams have been the league champs and the top seed, the first since 1999. Shepherd is ranked No. 5 in the East Region, putting it on the verge of earning its first-ever NCAA Division II national tournament bid.

"Just looking at the conference as a whole with what it lost and what we had back, this was our best chance," Runner said. "We have talked about this and the biggest thing was getting into that 64-team bracket. To do that, you have to win your league tournament or be ranked. This is going to be different, but we have played the entire season just looking ahead to the next game."

There has been very little to fret about for the Rams. Shepherd is 21-5 overall and 18-2 in the WVIAC, closing with a school-record 12-game winning streak.

It clinched the regular-season title with last Thursday's win over Fairmont State.

On Sunday, Runner was named the conference's coach of the year, while senior Laura Harkins was voted to the All-WVIAC first team and Krissy Grosselin and Katie Warehime were named to the second team.

Wareheim, a transfer from Fairleigh Dickinson, led the Rams at 13.6 points a game while Grosselin averaged 12.2 and Harkins 11.0. The backcourt is controlled by a pair of starting point guards, Rebecca Frece and Tiffany Acker.

"Grosselin has started since she was a freshman and she has a scorer's mentality," Runner said. "We have both our senior point guards starting at the same time. They know what we want and they just go out there and run the game. And then we have the bench. Every night a different one of them steps up."

Players like Colleen Shumaker, Nylia Zamora, Molly Land and Boonsboro's Jerica Hewett have come up to fill specific roles in specific games to keep Shepherd rolling.

Now Shepherd takes on the task of being the team everyone wants to beat instead of being the team that wants to do the beating.

"We took the No. 1 spot in the standings a couple of weeks ago," Runner said. "They have stayed at the same confidence level. I have not seen any doubt in any of their eyes this season."

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