A TOUGH ROAD AHEAD

01/06/2009 20:41
From nearly unbeatable to underdog?

That's how Lane Community College women's basketball coach Greg Sheley sees it, anyway.

Since 2004, the Titans have dominated the NWAACC, rolling through teams from Coos Bay to Clackamas, and Tacoma to the Tri-Cities.

During that time, LCC has gone 122-12, won two NWAACC championships, four straight Southern Region titles and has extended its dominance at home to 64 straight wins - a national collegiate record, according to Lane.

But as his team gets ready for the 2009 conference opener against Linn-Benton Community College in Albany at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sheley remained guardedly optimistic about the odds of Lane winning a fifth straight Southern Region title.

"The outlook is good, but I'm a little leery," said Sheley, who is in his 10th season as coach and first full season as Lane's athletic director. "This is the first time in four or five years where we're not the favorite."

And for good reason. Though the fifth-ranked Titans are 11-3 and have won 10 of their past 11 games, division rivals Umpqua and Clackamas are ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.

"Umpqua is really, really good," Sheley admitted. "They seem to really be rolling right now. I think we can beat Umpqua and can beat Clackamas, but we're going to have to play well."

Which they have been after getting off to a 1-2 start with losses to Spokane and South Puget Sound at a season-opening tournament in November, though they later beat Spokane in another tournament game in December.

"The preseason overall has been good," Sheley said. "I wouldn't call it great but we basically only had one slip-up. I think it was just inexperience that led to the rough start."

The Titans had to replace 10 players from last season's roster, including all five starters.

"This is the first time in a long time we've had so many freshmen I've had to count on," Sheley said. "You forget sometimes how lucky you've been. At a community college, technically, you're young every year, but we're counting on some pretty big production from freshmen."

So far, the Titans are getting it.

Carmen Williams, a 5-foot-8 freshman guard from South Eugene High School, is the Titans ' leading scorer at 16.3 points per game. She also averages six rebounds and is shooting 51 percent from the field.

"There's a reason she's the leading scorer," Sheley said. "She's figuring out how to get to the basket in transition and she can hit her jumper."

Williams' former Axemen teammate, 5-11 freshman guard Sarah Whitfield, is averaging 10.5 points, six rebounds and is making 43 percent of her three-pointers.

"She has been able to stretch things out for us a little bit," Sheley said.

"She's been a surprise in the sense that she works her tail off."

Theresa Brown, a 6-foot freshman forward from Sheldon, averages 11.3 points and a team-high 8.5 rebounds.

"She's doing the punishing work down low," Sheley said. "She is such a physical presence, She's probably improved the most and she's starting to figure out it's OK to bang around a little bit."

Lane's other two starters are sophomore forward Jennifer Kimbrow and freshmen Kourtney Parks, who was a sprinter on the University of Oregon track team last spring before transferring.

That group, along with sophomore guard Sheena Cole, who averages 9.5 points off the bench, will be counted on to keep the Titans ' current string of success moving forward.

For Lane, that now means dominating the league - LCC is 53-3 in the Southern Region since 2004 - and playing deep into the postseason.

The Titans played in three straight NWAACC championship games and won it all in 2005 and 2006. They have also played in five straight NWAACC Final Fours.

"Everyone is still going to give us their best game, and now they think they have a chance," Sheley said. "We have to go out and earn that respect again. Even at 11-3, I don't know if we've done that yet."

LCC WOMEN'S CONFERENCE SCHEDULE

January: 7, at Linn-Benton, 5:30 p.m. 10, at Mount Hood, 4 p.m. 14, SWOCC, 5:30 p.m. 17, at Chemeketa, 4 p.m. 21, Umpqua, 5:30 p.m. 24, at Clackamas, 4 p.m. 28, at Portland, 5:30 p.m. 31, Mount Hood, 4 p.m. February: 7, Chemeketa, 4 p.m. 11, Linn-Benton, 5:30 p.m. 14 - Clackamas, 4 p.m. 18, at SWOCC, 5:30 p.m. 21, Portland, 4 p.m. 25, at Umpqua, 5:30 p.m.
 

Section: Basketball College
Page: 13C
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