SEASON PREVIEW: SLIPPERY ROCK
With exactly 82 percent of last year's offense lost to graduation, it would seem that 11th-year coach John Tabisz would have his hands full in trying to put a competitive Slippery Rock Lady Rockets team on the floor this season.
On the contrary, Tabisz has his hands full of talent and experience coming into the new season, and the only remaining question is how well it will mesh together.
The Lady Rockets fell to a game below .500 (11-12) by season's end last year, and relied heavily on the offense of then-seniors Robin Meling and Misty Wadowski. But playing steadily behind them all season was a solid corps of underclass talent that will now have its chance to shine.
The 2000-2001 Lady Rockets will be led by the new senior tandem of three-year letterwinners Laura Watson (5-6 guard) and Rachel Lindey (5-7 guard, 2-year starter).
But it doesn't end there for Tabisz, who will also benefit from a large junior group led by Kayla Rodgers (5-9 forward), a fellow three-year letter-winner who missed the majority of her sophomore season with an injury.
Also returning from the 11th grade ranks are Dawn Meling (5-8 forward), Debbie Bruno (5-5 guard) and Megan Finch (5-8 forward), all of whom saw quality playing time last year.
And the steady influx of youth in the Slippery Rock program has persisted. Freshman Beth Mihalik (5-7) may well crack the starting five, according to Tabisz, and fellow frosh Danielle Morrow (5-8 forward) should also see varsity time.
From the sophomore class, Mollie Johnson (5-5 guard) and Andrea Kretzel (5-8 forward) will also vie for playing time, along with senior first-year player Melissa Hullings (5-5 guard).
The Lady Rockets made drastic improvements last year over the 1998-99 campaign, due in large part to the big senior seasons of Meling and Wadowsky, who by far led the team in scoring with their 349 and 287 points, respectively. But Finch received valuable playing time too, chipping in 95 points, and Lindey added 69.
"What's going to be our Achilles is how much we score," Tabisz said. "We lost good scoring inside, but with Kayla, Dawn and Megan, I'm hoping they can give us some inside scoring."
Tabisz said a key adjustment in his lineup may be moving Lindey from the 2-guard spot to the point to take Robin Meling's empty spot.
"I'm trying to get another person ready (at point guard), but that may not be this year," he said. "We should be pretty strong inside, but we'll be very suspect in our outside shooting. Robin used to give me a little of that last year, and now we don't have anyone to pick up that slack. That's what we're looking for -- people are going to sag in on our height and dare us to shoot from the outside."
Tabisz noted that he was pleased with the Lady Rockets' scrimmages against Franklin, Seneca Valley and Hampton.
"We fared a lot better than I thought we would," he said. "Our main weakness is just playing together and getting some smooth continuity going. They will go down as one of my hardest practicing teams."
Tabisz said emphatically that Grove City would be the premier team in the MCAC this year, citing the returns of underclass talents Amber McFeely, Carly Denniston and Chelsea Smith as evidence.
"I had an opportunity to see them this summer, and they're good -- real good," Tabisz said. -- By Herald sports writer Nate Summers
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