A banner season for Flashes

By Allen Moff Record-Courier sports writer Published:

They whispered it before the much-anticipated 1997-98 campaign began.

And they're not afraid to shout it now that the season has ended.

We belong!

The Kent State women's basketball team has earned the right to bellow those words after running the slate in the Mid-American Conference and pushing No. 24 Iowa State to the very limit in its own gym in the NCAA Tournament, having taken a major step toward proving it can compete with the top teams in the land.

"I think we established this year that we're capable of playing with Top 25 teams," said Lindsay, whose Golden Flashes (23-7) captured 20 or more victories for the fifth time in the last six years. "We played No. 24 Iowa State to three points in its own gym, and that outcome might have been different on a neutral court.

"My concern now is to maintain the level of play we've established this year. We can't have one great year then drop off the next."

Indeed, 1997-98 was one great year.

Kent State finished a perfect 21-0 against Mid-American Conference foes, claiming its second regular-season championship in three years and first MAC Tournament title in school history with a 64-56 triumph over chief nemesis Toledo.

"This is the kind of year the school will look back on and say, 'that team was exceptional,'" said Lindsay. "Fifteen years from now these players will come back at halftime of some game and get recognized for a perfect conference season. That's something the players and the school will always remember."

As for the drop off ... well, don't count on it.

The Flashes do lose three key performers in forward Carrie Templin, guard Ashley Bland and center Anne Chicorelli, all of whom deserve their due.

Templin, who led the team in scoring (13.7 points per game) and rebounding (6.1 rebounds per game) last season, finished a stellar collegiate career ranked among Kent State's all-time leaders in nine categories including scoring (7th, 1,531 points) and rebounding (6th, 739 rebounds).

Bland, a tenacious defender, wound up with 244 career steals (sixth) and lettered four years along with Chicorelli and Templin.

Playing together the last three seasons, the trio helped the Flashes win a resounding 67 games in 91 outings.

"They've played on two MAC championship teams and two NCAA Tournament teams, and they played a big part in the success of those teams," said Lindsay. "They provided a large portion of the leadership, which is a big part of the many things that go into a championship team."

However, Lindsay will have eight letterwinners and a talented batch of newcomers capable of filling their shoes on next year's roster.

Point guard Dawn Zerman improved drastically on her '96-97 MAC freshman of the year season. She earned the MAC defensive player of the year award after piling up a team-high 80 steals, and added 13.6 points and a team-high 3.7 assists per game while spearheading the Flashes' offensive attack.

Zerman was especially tough during the stretch, earning MAC Tournament most valuable player honors and piling up impressive numbers against Iowa State (21 points, seven assists, six steals).

Junior forward Alana Bader entrenched herself in the starting lineup early in the season and wound up third on the team in scoring (11.1 ppg).

After missing the first seven games of the year with a foot injury, freshman center Julie Studer (8.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg) steadily improved over the course of the season. By year's end she was a legitimate force, pouring in 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds against the Cyclones.

"She played her best basketball at the end of the year, and it's encouraging to see improvement like that out of young players," said Lindsay.

Carrie Nance and Liz Beggs also showed a great deal of promise as true freshmen.

"Three of our top four scorers against Iowa State were freshmen and sophomores," said Lindsay, referring to Studer, Zerman and Beggs. "That's encouraging, when you look at what they did this season and into next year."

Kent State will also have highly touted recruits Jamie Rubis (6-foot forward), Amanda Wolke (6-0 forward), Kristen Buelow (5-10 guard) and Carey Stumpf (5-10 guard) in uniform next year along with 6-0 forward Laura Gehrke, a transfer from James Madison who sat out last season.

So the Flashes will be regarded as the team to beat in the MAC once again next season, a fact Lindsay is growing accustomed to.

"The bullseye is always on us," he said. "MAC teams know when they're playing us they're playing one of the best teams in the league."

Look for that bullseye to follow the Flashes across the nation, now that they've proven that they belong.

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