It had become second nature for North Carolina State women's basketball coach Kay Yow to mention her team's constant national ranking. Early bad luck this season, however, has robbed her of the privilege.
For the first time since the start of The Associated Press women's poll, the Wolfpack is out of the national Top Twenty, ousted from the list in December following two losses in a tournament at the University of Texas.
Last weekend, the Wolfpack came off a nine-day break and split two games in its own tournament, the G.D. Ritzy's-C.Q. Classic in Raleigh.
"I can't say it doesn't matter because it does," Yow said. "It's the first time I've been out recruiting and I had to say, 'At the present time, we're unranked.' "
Consequently, Yow has had to alter her approach to high school seniors she hopes will attend N.C. State.
"Maybe I had taken it a little bit for granted in terms of my recruiting," she said. "That had always been something I had going for me. Maybe I just didn't fully know the value of being ranked."
Not since 1975 has Yow coached a Wolfpack team that dipped below .500 and part of the reason for the decline this year is the schedule. Last weekend's tournament featured top-ranked Old Dominion and No. 14 Kentucky, and is just a portion of the tough schedule.
N.C. State has already met Texas and has Virginia, Rutgers, North Carolina and Tennessee on consecutive dates in January.
"We play the schedule to get back into the ranking," Yow said. "We're going to play the ranked teams. If we play well in the ACC, that's going to help us. Every game from now on will help us to regain that ranking if it's possible."
If the Wolfpack regains that edge, it will be with a new starting lineup.
"Out of 11 players, six of them are freshmen and sophomores. Right now, we're starting our five upperclassmen," Yow said. "Our starters don't represent, perhaps, our best athletes and our best potential at every position, but that group is the best group to start at this point in time."
Leading the way is All-America Linda Page, a senior who is the nation's 10th leading scorer at 24.5 points per game. Page has been the leading scorer in all six games and the top rebounder in three of the contests.
Sophomore center Trena Trice is the next leading scorer at 12.5 and the only other player averaging in double figures.
Only one of the 11 players has not played in all six games, pointing up Yow's attempt to gain experience for the younger players and build the foundation for next season.
"As time goes by, the younger players are going to get better, the older players are going to get better. They're all improving every day," Yow said. "As long as I see improvement in the team, game-by-game, week-by-week, then I'm not concerned. I know that we're becoming more of what we can be every week and that's what's important to me right now."