BY CHRIS BURKE
Daily Sports Writer
Published October 29, 2001
CHICAGO When Michigan women"s basketball coach Sue Guevara led her team to a 15-11 record in her first season as head coach, it was considered a successful season for a then-struggling program.
Five years later, under Guevara"s leadership, expectations have increased.
Thanks to the return of seven experienced players from last year"s team, Guevara believes that Michigan"s program is to the point where it can improve on last season"s second-round NCAA Tournament appearance and fifth place Big Ten finish.
Apparently, the rest of the conference has taken notice of Michigan as well. The Wolverines finished tied for first with 2001 national runner-up Purdue according to the preseason Big Ten coaches poll, announced at the Big Ten"s media day yesterday.
"They have four returning starters and one of the best recruiting classes in the country," Purdue coach Kristy Curry said. "Tabitha Pool is an impact player. Guevara and her staff deserve every bit of (recognition). They"d probably be my preseason pick."
Michigan paved the way for this year"s high hopes with a solid campaign last season. The season included wins over No. 8 Louisiana Tech, No. 25 Iowa and three victories over a Penn State team that was ranked as high as No. 12.
"Michigan wasn"t a thorn, they were a tree in our side," Penn State coach Rene Portland said. "It"s an advantage to have (Guevara). She came from Michigan State so it"s not like they brought an outsider in, she just moved down the road but she knew Michigan recruiting and recruiting in general.
"I think there"s more consistency now with their program, more competitiveness. She"s done a really great job at Michigan."
With 19 wins last season, Guevara pulled within one victory of surpassing former Michigan coach Bud VanDeWege to become the winningest women"s basketball coach in Michigan history.
Guevara"s record is currently 93-53, including last year"s 81-71 overtime victory against Virginia to give Guevara her first NCAA Tournament win.
Also, with Michigan"s first Big Ten conference win this season, Guevara will become the first Michigan women"s basketball coach to earn 50 conference victories.
"It"s been a long road for Sue," Michigan State coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "She"s done a great job with her staff and her players I can only tip my hat to Michigan and what they"ve accomplished."
But even with all the success and praise Guevara has garnered, she felt that last year"s team could have been even better. On several occasions, the Wolverines followed up a big win by slipping up their next time out.
It"s something Guevara desperately wants to avoid this year.
"As coaches we know what to do, but it"s harder for the players," Guevara said. "They need to play like every game is big. Good teams play like that the whole time, no matter what the score is the opponent doesn"t matter, our only true opponent is the University of Michigan ourselves."
The biggest challenge facing the Wolverines now is proving right everyone that has predicted great things Michigan.
"We"re right there every year, we just haven"t been able to get that breakthrough tournament win or we"ll get a national ranking and then have a letdown," Michigan"s junior center LeeAnn Bies said. "The key is actually just doing it we"re right there, but we have to follow through."
Regardless of the outcome of the 2001-02 year, it is hard to dispute that Michigan"s program in general has benefited from the hiring of Guevara in1996.
"She"s raised the expectations high to what she wanted them at, and now if she doesn"t get them people are upset," Wisconsin coach Jane Albright said. "She"s got a passion for Michigan she"s done remarkable things there, really in every way."