New stars bring new look to Big 12 women's race

Wednesday, October 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ There's a new face on Big 12 women's basketball. So many of the stars from last season have gone, it gives a whole set of new ones a chance to shine this season.

Instead of Stacy Frese, Iowa State will look to Angie Welle and Megan Taylor. Phylesha Whaley is gone at Oklahoma, so the Sooners will rely on Stacey Dales and LaNeisha Caufield. Kansas must do without Lynn Pride, but the Jayhawks can count on Jennifer Jackson and Brooke Reves.

On and on it goes. Nebraska lost so many players that coach Paul Sanderford calls the Cornhuskers a ``no-name team.''

All five of the first-team all-conference selections are gone and every team except Colorado lost at least one top player. All feel they have good players waiting in the wings, but are they as good as those who left?

Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly says that's still to be determined. Just look who else is gone: Edwina Brown of Texas, Jennifer Crow of Oklahoma State, Nicole Kubik of Nebraska, Aleah Johnson of Texas Tech, Julie Helm of Missouri.

``I don't want to sit up here and say we have as many great players as we had in the past,'' Fennelly said Wednesday during the Big 12's media day. ``Some have that potential. A lot of kids have that chance, but that's a big step to take. They have to prove they can do it game in and game out.''

Jackson and Reves are ready to take that step at Kansas, where Pride has been the undisputed star the last three years. Pride's departure just means that everyone else has to pick it up, Reves said.

``In the past, Kansas always had kind of a superstar role model position,'' she said. ``This year, we're really evenly balanced, which I think is a definite advantage, just to be able to execute well and play as a team. The chemistry now is just amazing.''

Missouri coach Cindy Stein said teams often improve after losing a star player. She sees no dropoff in the strength of the league, which landed six teams in the NCAA tournament last year, had one (Texas Tech) make the final eight and two (Iowa State and Oklahoma) reach the final 16.

``I think we've got some amazing talent out there,'' Stein said. ``Yeah, our premiere players, most of them graduated. But I've seen so many times a lot of teams are better when they don't have a primary player to count on because that makes the other players better.

``And some of our teams had great recruiting classes. I think those are key factors that will continue to keep us a strong conference.''

Many of those recruits will contribute to the makeover in the league.

Baylor has seven newcomers and the league's only new coach, former Louisiana Tech assistant Kim Mulkey-Robertson. Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas Tech all have six newcomers. Oklahoma State and Texas A&M each has five.

What do they bring to the league?

``Balance,'' Nebraska coach Paul Sanderford said. ``I told people five losses will win the Big 12. I think 11-5 will be in the hunt.''

The best group of newcomers appears to be at Tech, where coach Marsha Sharp rounded up one of the nation's top recruiting classes. Junior college transfer Candi White will start at point guard. She's joined by five freshmen, all from Texas, all with enough talent to play immediately.

Sharp said one of them, Natalie Ritchie, could be the best shooter she's ever had. And that's coming from a coach who once had Sheryl Swoopes on her team.

At Texas, junior college transfer Kenya Larkin will start at point guard and freshmen Annissa Hastings and Stacy Stephens will see immediate action in the post.

``That has made us a better ball team,'' said coach Jody Conradt, starting her 25th season with the Longhorns. ``We have the potential to have a lot of depth.''

Baylor's Sheila Lambert, who averaged 23.2 points at Grayson County College in Texas, is so promising that the league's coaches voted her the preseason newcomer of the year. Ditto for Kansas State's Laurie Koehn, the preseason freshman of the year.

Fennelly said the new faces just add to the challenge of coaching in the league.

``I think it's going to be totally different,'' he said. ``Lynn Pride, I coached against her about 75 times I think. You can go right down the list. We had all these players for so long that our kids knew the game plan for everybody we played before they even got to practice.

``This year will be different. That's what will make it fun for everybody. I think there's some new kids that will emerge as great players.''