After an amazing season, the NC State Wolfpack is hoping for another incredible run into the NCAA tournament.
By Charlene Curtis for theACC.com
"I don't think I will ever experience another year as gratifying, no matter what. I don't think a national championship would beat what happened last year." That's how NC State head coach Kay Yow described what the 2006-07 season meant to her and to her program. Faith, emotion, inspiration, perseverance, and a senior-laden squad led the Wolfpack to upset wins over North Carolina in the regular season, Duke in the ACC Tournament semifinals, and Baylor in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Returning from the Wolfpack's astonishing run to coach her 33rd year on the NC State sideline is Hall of Fame head coach Kay Yow. Looking forward to the new season, Yow, the recipient of the inaugural Jimmy V ESPY for her courageous and very public fight against cancer, is optimistic about her youthful Wolfpack. "Now that I am able to coach, I have the youngest team I have ever had," Yow said. "That's going to be quite a challenge, but quite an opportunity with some of the talented players coming in."
Yow's optimism is further fueled by the return of senior forward Khadijah Whittington and junior guard Shayla Fields. Yow will count on her only two upperclassmen to lead the talented group of first- and second-year players.
The 6-1 Whittington is one of the hardest working post players in the ACC and in the country. She completed her junior season averaging a double-double (10.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game), making her the first Wolfpack player in 20 years to accomplish that feat.
Acknowledging that her career at NC State has gone by quickly, Whittington said that she has grown a lot as a person and "learned a lot being at NC State playing under a legend (coach Yow)."
"I'm a better person all around," she went on to say. Whittington knows she now has to take on more of a leadership role for her young NC State team, a fact echoed by Yow.
"KD (Whittington) has to be a leader," Yow said. "She needs to not just talk the talk but she must walk the walk. She needs to play an all-around game, take charges, block shots, and rotate well on defense. And we need to get her the ball."
Whittington, however, won't have to shoulder the leadership responsibility alone. While Whittington leads from the post, Fields will lead from the perimeter. "It's like having a pitcher and catcher in baseball," Yow said when speaking of Fields and Whittington.
Fields caught fire last season averaging 10 points per game as a sophomore after playing in just five games in her freshman year. Fields is a solid 3-point shooter who is good with the ball in her hands and good at shooting off the dribble.
Fields should get help on the perimeter from sophomores Amber White and Nikitta Gartrell and red-shirt freshman Megan Zullo. Both White and Gartrell participated in the USA Youth Development Festival prior to arriving at NC State. White, who is very quick with the ball, started three games at the point position as a freshman. Gartrell started 15 of the team's first 16 games last season and is known for her ability to score in a variety of ways. She is capable of putting up big numbers from the perimeter and will use her 14 minutes per game experience as a freshman to help the Wolfpack keep its winning ways. Zullo started three games last season but was sidelined after just seven games because of a stress fracture in her right leg. She is a combo guard who gives the Wolfpack another scoring threat on the perimeter.
NC State will count on its defense early in the season as the very talented freshmen and sophomores learn the ropes and define themselves on the offensive end. When asked who in the freshman and sophomore classes will be ready to step up, Yow said, "We do have a lot of choices. We have good speed, quickness, and a little more height here and there."
"Perimeter players are actually coming along faster than the inside players. You might see us playing with a smaller line-up. We hopefully will be able to get more from our inside players later in the season."
With back-to-back top-20 recruiting classes, the Wolfpack will indeed be talented but young. With Yow back at the helm, energized and ready to teach her young players the finer points of the game, and with veterans Whittington and Fields eager to leave their mark in the Wolfpack history books, the NC State Wolfpack is eagerly looking forward to a season that will hopefully be described in the end as another miraculous year on the hardwood.