On Monday night, for the first time in 34 long years, the NC State women’s basketball team opened the competitive basketball season without head coach Kay Yow leading the way for the Lady Wolfpack. Instead, it was first-year coach Kellie Harper coaching up-and-down the court, shouting plays and instructing an experienced Wolfpack squad which includes 11 of 12 players returning from last year’s team, a team who compiled an overall record of 13-17 overall and 5-9 in conference, good enough for 9th place in the loaded ACC. With the regular season less than two weeks away, Harper and company took the floor for the first time in an exhibition game against the North Greenville Crusaders, a D-II university out of Tigerville, South Carolina. The pre-season jitters seemed to wear off immediately as the Wolfpack women played tenacious defense and executed to precision all night long in route to a 87-44 victory.
Appointed as the new head coach on April 16, 2009, the 32-year old Harper looks to continue the vision which Coach Yow dreamt about for so many years. The dream was to consistently be a national contender and compete with the best in the conference and the nation. If anyone knows how to accomplish this vision, it might be Coach Harper. A point guard on the Tennessee Lady Volunteers’ basketball team from 1995-1999 under legendary Coach Pat Summitt, Harper helped lead her team to SEC tournament championships in 1996, 1998, and 1999, and 3 straight NCAA titles in 1996, 1997, and 1998 with a perfect 39-0 record in 1997-1998. These accomplishments eventually would gain her entry into the Tennessee Lady Volunteer Basketball Hall of Fame. However, not only is Coach Harper a winner as the athlete, she has also proven herself as a worthy instructor and coach. Serving as an Assistant Coach on the Auburn Tigers squad, as well as at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She also found success when she took the head job at Western Carolina. The next chapter in her story began last night when the she led her Wolfpack women to a convincing victory in their opener.
The Lady Wolfpack dominated the game from tip-off until the final whistle blew with very little trouble in establishing dominance over an outmatched Crusaders team. The Pack began the game on an 11-0 run and held the Crusader’s on a drought that they were unable to break until the 15:55 mark in the first half. The Wolfpack was paced by senior Lucy Ellison who finished with 10 points and 9 rebounds, junior Tia Bell who had 14 points and 9 rebounds, and by sophomore Bonae Holston who finished with a game high in points and rebounds with 19 and 11 respectively. Though the team played great all-around ball, they finished with 18 turnovers, a stat which Coach Harper, being a former point guard, will not let continue. Overall, however, Harper was excited about the exhibition victory and felt that it was a good first showing for her ball club.
"We we're really excited, I know the girls were really excited to play somebody else." said Harper. "I'm pleased with the effort most of the game. I'm really anxious to go study this on film. I think film is a great teaching tool. We will watch a lot of it tomorrow and work hard to get better."
The first half saw alternating scoring runs from both teams and impressive offensive rebounding from a resilient Wolfpack frontcourt. NC State finished with a 62-25 edge on the boards, 27 which were offensive rebounds. The first half concluded with a balanced attack from the Wolfpack leading the Crusaders 42-17, even with the absence of Sharnise Beal, leading returning scored from last year (11.5 ppg) who was out with a knee injury. Each of the 11 players on the team who were eligible to play registered at least 14 minutes, with 10 of those 11 players getting in on the scoring column. The defense was also on key as the Pack held North Greenville to 19.2% shooting in the first half, and 23.1% for the game. The second half was much of the same with the Pack getting ahead early and steadily increasing their lead until it reached a game high 43 when the final buzzer rang. NC State outmatched North Greenville in points in the paint by a margin of 46-4, second-chance points 28-8, fast break points 18-4, and bench points 41-12.
Picked to finish 9th in the ACC this year, the Lady Wolfpack looks to play its official season opener on Friday, November 13 against Florida International at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh in the Sheraton Raleigh Wolfpack Invitational. Here Coach Harper will look to record her first official win in the NC State record books on her way to RE-establishing the Wolfpack as a national powerhouse, but for now she and everyone else should be happy with their performance against North Greenville University.
By Patrick Stephenson
Photo courtesy of GoPack.com