Oct. 15, 2003
ATLANTA — The Georgia Tech women’s basketball team will begin preparations for the 2003-04 season in earnest on October 17, by hosting “The Ball at Midnight” at Alexander Memorial Coliseum.
Admission to the event is free and the festivities will get underway at 9:30 p.m., with live music and free food being provided to all in attendance. At 10:30 p.m., a number of contests will take place, with various prizes being given away throughout the night. The Tech coaching staff will square off with members of the Atlanta media in a pickup game beginning at 11 p.m. Players will be available for autographs during the evening and fans will get their first chance to see the 2004 edition of the Yellow Jackets, including new head coach MaChelle Joseph and her staff, at 11:50 p.m., when the team will be introduced. Tech will then compete in an intrasquad scrimmage at 12:10 a.m., to close out the evening.
Joseph inherits a team that returns four starters and 12 letterwinners from a team that finished the 2003 campaign with a 20-11 record and reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1993. Tech also completed its Atlantic Coast Conference schedule with a school-best-tying 8-8 record, to finish tied for fourth place and also reached the semifinals of the ACC Tournament before falling to eventual champion Duke.
Joseph, who served as the team’s top assistant coach for each of the past two seasons, was named the fifth head coach in the history of the program on May 19, 2003, replacing Agnus Berenato, who became the head coach at Pittsburgh after 15 seasons in the same post at Tech. In her first two years on the Flats, Joseph applied her skills as an instructor and recruiter along with her all-star playing credentials to help the program enjoy two of the best seasons in its history.
“We are really excited to get started with practice this week,” said Joseph. “The fact that we have five seniors back and a number of players that played a lot for us last year will make the early stages of practice much easier on the team and the coaching staff. It will be a lot easier this year because we only have two new players as opposed to seven a year ago. I was fortunate that Agnus Berenato gave me the opportunity to handle most of the day-to-day teaching of the ‘X’s’ and ‘O’s’ a year ago, so the players are familiar with me and I’m familiar with them.”
Leading the returnees for the Jackets is senior All-America candidate Fallon Stokes, who averaged 15.7 points and 6.5 rebounds a year ago. Stokes, who is the ACC’s second-leading returning scorer in 2004, was outstanding down the stretch a year ago, averaging 20.0 points and 7.3 rebounds over the final seven games of the year.
“Fallon Stokes, in my opinion, is one of the top three players in the ACC,” said Joseph. “She came into her own at the end of last season and she became very hard to defend. The fact that she can play inside and outside, along with being a tremendous rebounder and scorer is what allowed her to find ways to score against any defense. She finally turned the corner of going from a very good player to a great player and I’d like to see her become an elite player this year.”
Fellow seniors Alex Stewart and Megan Isom will join her in the starting lineup. Stewart returns after leading the ACC in both assists per game (5.6) and free throw percentage (.851) a year ago, while Isom ranked third on the team in scoring (9.8 ppg) and led the Jackets with 58 threes on the year to go along with a team-best 65 steals.
“Alex started last year as our third point guard,” said Joseph. “We told her that her minutes would be anywhere from zero to five and then after we had two injuries, she kind of went in and became the heart and soul of our team. She led us in every way, on and off the court. Megan is one of the best three-point shooters in the league and is a threat to knock down five in a row. She is also a great defensive player and is very deceptive because she doesn’t look very quick, but has a tremendous knowledge of the game.”
Sophomore Megan Harpring returns to the starting backcourt after starting the final seven games of 2003 and earning ACC Rookie of the Week honors on Feb. 24 after helping lead Tech to wins over both Florida State and Clemson.
“I don’t think you can look at the stat sheet and see the impact that Megan had on our team,” said Joseph. “The thing about her is her toughness and her work ethic. She will not be denied, and she forced us to start her and play her because she is the hardest worker every day.”
The Jackets will welcome back the services of senior guard Nina B?rlin, who missed all but one minute of the 2003 season after re-injuring the knee that caused her to miss the final 12 games of the 2002 campaign. Also returning from a knee injury will be April Johnson, who was Tech’s first player off the bench as a rookie a year ago, before suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament six games into the season.
The Yellow Jackets will face their first outside competition on Nov. 8, when they host Premier Players in an exhibition game at 7 p.m. at Alexander Memorial Coliseum, and will open the regular season on the road at Florida Atlantic on Nov. 21.