The last thing they wanted was to be assigned to play at the University of Maryland. Coppin State's women wanted to travel somewhere for their first appearance in the NCAA Division I tournament, and their wish was granted yesterday.
But the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champions won't be taking on easy pickings as a 16th seed, drawing North Carolina, the No. 2-ranked team nationally, on its home turf in an opening-round game Sunday in Chapel Hill, N.C.
"I kind of wanted to get out to the West or Midwest," said LaKesha Wills (Dunbar), the outstanding performer of the MEAC tournament. "I wanted to be in Fresno or somewhere. But this is OK."
Each time a bracket matching teams in College Park was announced with Coppin State missing, the players let out a whoop while viewing the telecast on campus. When North Carolina became the known destination, they were universally pleased.
"We wanted to get off the East Coast into a different atmosphere," said Denita Plain, the point guard who also made the All-MEAC tournament team
"I guess we all just wanted to travel," said Sherrie Tucker, the Player of the Year in the league during the regular season. "We're not going that far, but at least we're not going just down the road."
The Lady Eagles played at Maryland in December, losing, 83-51, when the Terrapins were at full strength.
Coach Derek Brown said after Saturday's bid-clinching victory over Norfolk State that his team might have a chance to win a first-round game "depending on the matchup."
Asked yesterday if this were a favorable matchup, he replied: "Probably not. We're playing on their home floor. We're going to need a lot of luck. But my team won't back down. They play hard and they're a senior group."
The Tar Heels beat archrival and perennial Atlantic Coast Conference power Duke three times this season and are on a 13-game winning streak after defeating the Blue Devils, 88-67, in the ACC tournament final.
Coppin State's players are keenly aware of the prowess of Ivory Latta, the North Carolina point guard who is the undisputed leader of her team as a sophomore.
"We've watched them several times on TV," Plain said. "And I've been compared to her [Latta, who also is 5 feet 6]."
North Carolina has outscored its opposition by an average of 21.3 points a game and outrebounded rivals by 43-35, on average. Erlana Larkins (15.1 points, 7.1 rebounds) is the top inside player.
But the Tar Heels were also beaten at Maryland, 92-77, so Coppin State's task isn't insurmountable.
"I hope they won't think we're just a walk in the park, a cupcake," Wills said.
Leisel Harry, Coppin's inside force, said she will "have to reschedule" an examination she was supposed to take Saturday. "Everything will be put on hold for this."
"I know we're a much better team than we were when we played Maryland," Brown said. "And I think Maryland was at its best when we played them, and North Carolina has equivalent talent. If they are more talented, it's going to be a long game."
Record: 20-7, 15-3
Conference: Mid-Eastern Athletic
Coach: Derek Brown
Top players: F Sherrie Tucker, 16.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg; G Rashida Suber, 10.4 ppg; F/C LaKesha Willis, 12.1 ppg, 8.3 rpg
Skinny: The Lady Eagles, who advanced to the conference title game for the first time in 12 years, earned their first NCAA tournament berth in 20 years in Division I.
Record: 27-3, 12-2
Conference: Atlantic Coast
Coach: Sylvia Hatchell
Top players: G Ivory Latta, 16.9 ppg, 4.5 apg; F Erlana Larkins, 15.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg; F/G Camille Little, 12.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg
Skinny: The ACC champs have big wins over Connecticut and Duke and were undefeated at home. Latta and Larkins are capable scorers and Nikita Bell was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year.