Talk about great expectations. Even Charles Dickens would be on the edge of his Ferrell Center seat in anticipation of the Baylor Lady Bears' upcoming basketball season.
Head coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson's team will head into the 2004-05 season with four returning starters from last year's 26-9 squad that advanced to the NCAA's Sweet 16 for the first time in school history.
However, this time there will be no sneaking up on opponents. Four sports publications -- Sports Illustrated, Lindy's, Slam and Athlon -- have ranked the Lady Bears in their preseason Top 10 polls.
The team's beefed-up schedule includes 13 teams that saw action in postseason competition last year. Louisiana State University, Penn State, Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Missouri and Colorado all played in the NCAA Tournament, while Rice, Washington, Nebraska and Iowa State were WNIT participants.
The team also will play on television a program-high seven times during the upcoming regular season -- five times on Fox Sports Network and twice on ESPN2. The Lady Bears will open the season Nov. 14 on ESPN2 with a match-up against top-ranked LSU in the State Farm Tip-Off Classic in Austin, Texas.
"This is an opportunity to be recognized and play against one of the top programs in the nation," Mulkey-Robertson said. "And with the Tip-Off Classic within driving distance for our fans, I'm hoping that we'll have a bigger turnout than we had for our Sweet 16 game against Tennessee in Norman."
Leading the way for the Lady Bears are returning starters, senior Steffanie Blackmon (top, right) and junior Sophia Young. The two All-Big 12 performers have been named preseason candidates for the State Farm Wade Trophy National Player of the Year, widely regarded as the "Heisman Trophy of Women's Basketball." In addition, Blackmon has been named a preseason Wooden Award All-American. Young has received preseason All-American honors from Athlon and Lindy's magazines.
Blackmon, a 6-foot-2-inch post from Dallas, averaged 15.6 points and 6.9 rebounds a game last season. During her three-year career, she has scored 1,402 points and pulled down 651 rebounds. Blackmon also currently ranks No. 2 on Baylor's career blocks chart with 130. The Baylor record is 141, held by Kacy Moffitt (1995-99).
Young, a 6-foot-1-inch forward from St. Vincent, West Indies, led Baylor in both scoring and rebounding with 16.7 points and 8.6 rebounds a game last season. In only two years, Young has put up some impressive statistics --- 1,083 points, 653 rebounds and 27 double-doubles.
Sophomore forward Abiola Wabara, senior point guard Chelsea Whitaker, starters last season, and three-point specialist Emily Niemann, a sophomore, also return for the Lady Bears. In all, Baylor will bring back 73.4 percent of last season's points and 75.8 percent of the rebounds.
With a majority of the firepower coming back for Baylor, the Lady Bears are hopeful that their fans will return in droves to the Ferrell Center. The Baylor Lady Bear basketball team finished 18th in NCAA Division I home attendance, the second-highest total in Baylor history.
"We're excited to see the continual increased support of Lady Bear basketball and hope that before long, we can crack into the top 10," Mulkey-Robertson said.
A coach known for challenging her players to "leave it all out on the floor," Mulkey-Robertson also has invited Baylor fans to push their enthusiasm for women's basketball a notch higher.
"With the quality of teams coming to the Ferrell Center next year and hopefully the excellent product we'll be putting on the floor, I challenge our fans to break season ticket and season attendance records," she said.