In Search of a Little Respect

Times Staff Writer

Take a spin around the Southland gyms and you'll hear many women's teams espousing similar goals and ambitions.

They're all working hard. They want to win the conference championship. They want to qualify for postseason play, preferably the NCAA tournament.

But for the "mid-major" teams, from UC Riverside to Long Beach State to Pepperdine, there is another goal.

In a word, r-e-s-p-e-c-t.

For that word to have any meaning, however, another word comes first -- w-i-n.

Nobody understands that better than Pepperdine Coach Mark Trakh.

The Waves (22-8) have enjoyed six consecutive 20-victory seasons, becoming the first West Coast Conference team to do that, won the WCC regular-season and tournament championships the last two seasons, and have made the NCAA tournament field three of the last four years. They are expected to win the WCC championship again.

But Pepperdine has never advanced beyond the first round of the NCAA tournament. In March, the Waves were humbled by Louisiana Tech in their tournament opener, 94-60.

"It's on us," Trakh said. "We can't complain about a lack of respect until we win a tournament game."

As they have the last two seasons, the Waves will start this one short-handed. Junior center Shannon Mayberry and junior forward Shannell Law, two of Trakh's main post players, and solid sophomore guard Kelsey Ball are sidelined because of injuries. Freshman forward Teiosha George is also hurt but could be available for the home opener against Stanford tonight.

The Waves do get back junior guard Shandrika Lee, who averaged 17.6 points in 11 games before tearing a ligament in her left knee, and welcome two transfers -- junior guard Syreeta Stafford from Colorado and junior forward Kelly Greathouse from North Carolina State.

Still, "rebounding is a big concern, especially with the schedule we play this year," said Trakh, referring to games against two-time defending national champion Connecticut, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Stanford.

At Loyola Marymount, Coach Julie Wilhoit says the Lions (14-15) will be in better shape to battle Pepperdine for the WCC title. Senior guard Kate Murray, who played five games before going down with a knee injury, was granted a fifth year of eligibility. All five starters return, including senior center Adrianne Slaughter, conference defensive player of the year, and junior center Jennifer Henry, who combined with Slaughter to block 107 shots.

"Our greatest weakness last year was scoring," said Wilhoit, whose team averaged only 58.7 points a game. "We were No. 1 in rebounding and team defense in the conference. So [the coaching staff] has focused on changing our offense to create opportunities for the kids to be more confident scorers."

Big West Conference teams Cal State Fullerton, UC Irvine, Long Beach State, Cal State Northridge and UC Riverside will take aim at UC Santa Barbara, expected to win an eighth consecutive league championship.

The Titans (7-21) have undergone a big makeover, jettisoning coach Barbara Ehardt (12-72 in three seasons) and bringing back Maryalyce Jeremiah, who last coached Fullerton basketball in 1992 -- the last time the Titan women had a winning season.

Her team, which features the senior trio of Tamara Quinn, Rochelle Ortega and Nikki Lee, won't be big; no player on the current roster is more than 6-2.

Long Beach State (14-15) made a coaching change too, hiring Mary Hegarty to succeed Dallas Bolla. Hegarty, a former UCLA star who spent the last 10 seasons coaching at Division III Chapman University, isn't promising to send the 49ers to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1992. But she has some size -- four players are 6-3 or taller -- and an ultra-quick guard in Candice Wilson to ignite what Hegarty hopes will be an up-tempo style.

Irvine Coach Mark Adams and the Anteaters (17-12) are coming off a successful season, with their most wins since 1994-95. What Adams needs is fewer injuries. Redshirt freshman Megan Aaker, for instance, is out for the season because of a torn left Achilles' tendon.

Irvine does have seven returning players, anchored by seniors Christina Callaway and Kristen Green, plus four freshmen to build on last year's promise.

Riverside (8-20) and Northridge (3-24) are building but could play spoiler late in the season.

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