Short trip, rough road for Eagles

The Baltimore Sun

In the end, it didn't matter that the Coppin State women's team won its third Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title in four years, that it won 16 of its past 17 games or that it has one of the slickest backcourts in mid-major basketball.

The NCAA sentenced the 22-10 Eagles to a No. 16 seed in the Division I tournament and sent them down Interstate 95 to College Park for a Sunday afternoon, first-round matchup against top-seeded Maryland in the Spokane Regional.

Assembled in a large upstairs room in the school's cafeteria for the ESPN selection show, the Eagles let out a whoosh of disbelief, then clapped at the proceedings.

"It was kind of a shock for us to be the 16th seed and get Maryland at the same time," point guard Shalamar Oakley said. "Then it was like, OK, we got a good game."

Shooting guard Rashida Suber said the initial reaction - an audible "oooh" - was because "everybody thought we would get to go somewhere, not stay here."

The disappointment was palpable, but not because the opponent was a powerhouse Maryland team. There was a similar groan when ESPN flashed an LSU-Jackson State matchup. One Internet prediction had the Eagles going to Baton Rouge, La., to play LSU.

At least it would have been a trip.

"I'm bothered more that we're not doing more traveling and will have that feeling of being in the NCAA," coach Derek Brown said. "Now we'll be in our own beds and take a 30-minute drive."

Coppin players agreed unilaterally they were hurt by the reputation of the MEAC. "A lot of it has to do with the fact our conference doesn't get a lot of respect," said forward Danielle Anders, who averaged 14 points in the MEAC tournament. "We're not getting the respect we deserve."

Coppin used to play Maryland regularly in the nonconference season, but Brown called it off after the 2005-06 season after going 0-6 against the Terps.

"I didn't think we got anything out of playing them," he said. "If you get beat badly, it doesn't bode well for recruiting in the area."

The Eagles have never beaten Maryland, and their past two losses were by 31 and 32 points.

Still, Coppin wasn't ready to concede.

"I think we always go out and play hard," Anders said. "That's part of our team's identity. I think we'll play hard and it won't be the average 1-16 game that people think it's going to be."

"I'm just glad we're playing," Whitney Cunningham said.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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