Cinderella ready to dance at ball
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on March 14, 2008 2:54 PM
MOUNT OLIVE -- Cinderella is ready to dance.
She hopes to show top-seeded Indiana (Pa.) University a few new moves and pull off a first-round upset when the NCAA Division II East Regional tips off today.
But will Mount Olive's glass slipper shatter?
That almost seemed the case nearly two weeks ago when the Trojans played their worst game at archrival Barton College. However, they responded with three superb efforts, including a stirring upset over No. 12-ranked Anderson (S.C.) University in the Conference Carolinas tournament finals.
Mount Olive (20-10 overall) earned its first-ever trip to the ball.
"Coach just told us we have to keep fighting no matter what happens," said senior point guard Keona Corley. "We have the best team we've ever had here and we had to show them. I think we might surprise a lot of people.
"I feel that we're the Cinderella team."
In other opening-round games today, fourth-seeded West Liberty State opposes fifth-seeded Shepherd (W. Va.); third-seeded Anderson battles sixth-seeded Fairmont State; and second-seeded California (Pa.) meets seventh-seeded Millersville (Pa.).
The regional winner continues dancing at the Elite Eight in Kearney, Neb.
Preseason injuries nearly decimated the Trojans. Post players Jill Oaks, Sierra Medeiros and Alisa Jones spent more practice time in the training room rehabbing than on the court.
The team took another blow when sophomore Helen Moore missed a month of action. Eighth-year coach Wendy Lee wondered if her preseason expectations had been wishful thinking.
"We had a lot of good ingredients (returning) that I thought could turn out to be a conference championship," said Lee. "I felt like we really matched up well with all the teams and I had a good feeling all along."
That good feeling turned gut-wrenching by mid-January. Mount Olive won just one game during a 30-day period and was a meager 5-7 overall after a disheartening road loss at St. Andrews.
Could the team turn it around?
Oaks, Jones and Medeiros finally returned to practice. While the trio didn't produce offensively, they provided quality minutes off the bench and kept Mount Olive within striking distance in several games. When Moore returned, the Trojans raised their level of play.
Over the next 40 days, Mount Olive emerged victorious in 12 of its final 15 regular-season outings. Included were rare road wins at in-state conference foes Lees-McRae and Belmont Abbey.
"A major turning point was winning at Belmont Abbey," said Lee. "It was a difficult game to win on the road. It required a lot of guts with us not playing our best game. Keona stepped up and carried the team that night.
"Tomeka (Prichard) hit some big shots."
Lee knew then something special was about to happen.
Corley did, too.
Mount Olive proceeded to run the table in the Conference Carolinas tournament, including the astounding upset of Anderson. The Trojans set school records for season wins (20) and league victories (15).
"I think Anderson was a little surprised. They're a real solid team and on the same level as Indiana," said Lee. "I don't think our players are intimidated by that and we don't need to go into the NCAA tournament with any fear in our minds.
"Beating Anderson on their court is the type of preparation you need for the NCAA tournament. This is a special group and maybe we can keep doing it."
Cinderella wants to dance long past midnight.
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