COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina senior Teresa Geter set the same goal this season as she did when she was a freshman at Tennessee: win the national championship.
That goal seemed farfetched at the start of the season. The Lady Gamecocks have been to the NCAA tournament just five times with the last trip 11 years ago, while the Lady Vols have won six national championships.
But South Carolina's veteran team has posted the best start in school history at 12-1 and has earned a No. 14 ranking.
Geter said she's closed the book on the Volunteers, where as a freshman she won a national championship in 1998 and was supposed to be the next big star when Chamique Holdsclaw moved on to the WNBA.
The split between Geter and Tennessee was amiable. The Lady Vol crowd cheered Geter in her return last year. Coach Pat Summitt said she's impressed with the way Geter has taken over the offensive burden when South Carolina needs her.
"I think it was the best decision for me at that time, and I still think so now," said Geter, a former South Carolina Miss Basketball at Columbia High School.
As soon as Geter transferred closer to home, the spotlight dimmed. Crowds of 10,000 come to see the Lady Vols, while fewer than 800 people showed up for South Carolina's last game.
Yet the quiet, cozy atmosphere of the Lady Gamecock program fits Geter nicely. While her teammates bark instructions, Geter is more likely to tap someone on the shoulder and talk quietly in her ear.
Geter's coach praises her basketball ability but declines to call her a team leader.
"It's not Teresa's personality. She's not vocal," coach Susan Walvius said. "I think it's surprising to most people she's really a quiet, passive personality."
Before this season, South Carolina had never been ranked since joining the Southeastern Conference in 1991 - the last time the Lady Gamecocks made the NCAA tournament.
An SEC season like last year, when they went 6-8, probably would mean an NCAA berth. South Carolina opened the conference season with No. 6 Vanderbilt, then plays No. 8 Georgia on the road and second-ranked Tennessee at home in the next five games.
Last year, South Carolina lost 85-56 to Vanderbilt, 99-45 to Tennessee and 92-55 to Georgia.
Geter's a key part of the team, Walvius said. But more important has been the leadership of junior forward Jocelyn Penn and sophomore guard Kelly Marrone, both of whom redshirted last season.
Add guard Shaunzinski Gortman's knack for finding the open spot on the floor, and suddenly the Lady Gamecocks are a threat in a league where they used to be an afterthought.
Geter is averaging about 11 points a game as Walvius has moved her back into her more traditional post-up position. The offense still runs through Geter, but the senior is looking for her teammates more this season after shouldering the scoring burden last year.
And when the shots don't fall, Geter has been hitting the boards, averaging about eight rebounds a game. The Lady Gamecocks are outrebounding their opponents by an average of more than 10 a game.
The seeds for the turnaround were planted last year when South Carolina posted its best SEC mark at 6-8, with big wins against Auburn and Alabama.
"We opened up some eyes last year - mainly our own," Geter said. "We wanted to do better. We have the talent, now we have the confidence and the work ethic. You can't go wrong with hard work."
Last season, Geter told her teammates stories of her days in Tennessee so they could understand how winning can multiply. She doesn't have to tell those stories this year.
"We already had some experience on the team," Geter said. "There's no need to repeat what was said last year. I'm just trying to do more by example than being vocal."
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