Originally created 11/06/02

Gamecocks get no respect despite last year's success



COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina's top scorer Jocelyn Penn is back after the Gamecocks finished last season at No. 6, but that hasn't translated into respect from preseason poll voters.

The Gamecocks were left off The Associated Press preseason top 25 poll and are picked to finish seventh in the Southeastern Conference.

That's "a slap in the face" of the team, but it will motivate the Gamecocks this season, coach Susan Walvius said Tuesday.

Walvius and players met with reporters in the dusty McGuire Room of the new Carolina Center, where pallets of wallboard are being installed, extension cords crisscross staircases and workers are busy painting hallways.

School officials say the $70 million arena will ready for the Nov. 22 women's game against Clemson.

Sophomore guard Christina Ciocan said the confidence created by last year's success will carry over into the new season. "We're still trying to prove that people don't respect us as they should," she said.

Walvius said she had to replace the team's No. 2 scorer, Shaunzinski Gortman, the team's most prolific 3-point shooter who hit 52-of-143 last year, and No. 3 scorer, Teresa Geter.

Tatiana Troina, another top long-range shooter who hit 48-of-135 last year, also graduated.

"If you go through statistically, each team in our league, the majority of them are bringing back 70 percent of their scoring," Walvius said. "We've got about 50 percent of our scoring coming back."

Penn, a senior forward who averaged 16.4 points per game last year and shot a record-setting 62 percent on the season, says she's ready for the new season.

"Last year was a phenomenal season, it was a first for everything," Penn said. "We just want to capitalize on last season."

But that doesn't mean the Gamecocks want to repeat what happened last year. The women marched through the NCAA tournament like they had been there every year.

Then in the regional final, South Carolina was down to Duke - a team it had beat in Durham, N.C, earlier in the season - in the first half then took the lead briefly in the second half before the Blue Devils pulled away.

"When I think of the carelessness at the end of that game, with turnovers and with missed lay-ups, you know that's just very frustrating," Penn said. "I think our players have that same feeling ... they are not settling for what we accomplished last year.

"I think we're more frustrated with what we didn't accomplish than satisfied with what we did."

Returning players expected to be the team's strong 3-point shooters are junior Kelly Morrone, who hit 45-of-127 from long range last year, and Ciocan, who hit 17-of-40.

Morrone is out for a week with a broken nose. "That really hurts us because she is such a vocal leader for us in practice," Walvius said.

The injury could be an early warning for the Gamecocks, who will carry just 10 players this season. While the coach said that could be a bonus with camaraderie and her style of rotating players in a game, it could be a problem if injuries crop up.

Also returning is senior center Petra Ujhelyi, who Walvius said will be featured more prominently on offense after focusing on defense last year.

Some newcomers could find their way into the starting rotation.

"Koretha Johnson is every bit as quick as Shaun Gortman," Walvius said of the 5-10 guard from Myrtle Beach. Kasia Roszak, a 6-foot-2 forward from Poland, is "a great rebounder" and fits in with the team's scrappy persona.

A freshman guard from Ohio - Sarah Burgess - also has caught Walvius' eye in early practices. "Sarah reminds me a whole lot of Kelly Morrone - no fear, shoots it quickly, attacks the rim extremely well, takes it at the defense."