With controversy behind them, the Seahawks set their sights on season

Chad Graves | Staff Writer

No one can argue that the UNC-Wilmington women’s basketball team has had a controversial preseason.

Multiple reports have been published questioning and criticizing the log-rolling incident that occurred on Sept. 20. Assistant coach Johnetta Hayes demanded junior guard Julia Finlay roll up and down the court in Trask Coliseum, causing her to vomit.

As accusations dumped onto the coaching staff and the university athletics program, athletic director Kelly Mehrtens announced her resignation. Although Mehrtens and Chancellor Rosemary DePaolo denied the two incidents were linked, speculation continued to swirl around the program with a new leader at the helm.

In her first season as UNCW’s women’s basketball coach, head coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke is not a new name to women’s basketball. As one of the most decorated players in WNBA history, Cooper-Dyke knows what it takes to build a winning team.

When she took the head coaching position at Prairie View A&M in 2005, she coached the team to four consecutive postseason appearances, including two NCAA tournament bids. In 2007 and 2009, she was awarded Southwestern Athletic Conference coach-of-the-year honors.

Although Finlay decided she will not return to the team this season, Cooper-Dyke has aimed to continue to move forward with the program, instead of dwelling on the past.

At the Oct. 12 media day, Cooper-Dyke said, “We’re very sorry that it happened and we’re very apologetic, but at the same time we have a season to prepare for and a season to play.”

Preseason CAA polls predict the Seahawks to finish eighth out of the 12 team conference. They’ll face stiff competition, including James Madison, Old Dominion and Delaware. All three teams are ranked in the CollegeInsider.com Preseason Mid-Major Top 25.

Despite the tough opponents, Cooper-Dyke emphasized the importance of winning each game. “We have to win every game that we should win,” she said. “I believe we also need to win those and steal a couple that they didn’t think we would win.”

The Seahawks will look to forward Brittany Blackwell to continue to lead the team. Blackwell has won all-conference honors in each of her three seasons at UNCW and is ranked in the top 10 in the conference in scoring, rebounds and assists.

In addition to Blackwell, the Seahawks have other veteran leadership, as there are only three freshmen on the team. They will need to use their prior experience to win games, especially against the upper tier teams in the CAA.

With a difficult conference schedule, Cooper-Dyke will teach a simple concept. “It’s just competition, wanting to win every single game, every rebound and every score,” she said. “It’s important we don’t lay down for anyone and make each team earn a win if they are going to beat this team.”