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TUESDAY, APRIL 12, 2005
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MICHAEL WETZEL

Tide selects MTSU's coach to direct women's basketball

Alabama appears to have picked a rising star as the new women's basketball coach.

Middle Tennessee State University's Stephany Smith is replacing Rick Moody as overseer of the women's hoops program. Smith took the Lady Raiders to women's NCAA tournament three times. The past two years, Middle Tennessee posted upsets over No. 12 North Carolina in 2004 and No. 12 North Carolina State this year.

Smith, who owns a 153-88 record in Murfreesboro, Tenn., told her players Sunday night of her decision to leave. One player hearing of the departure was former Speake High standout Starr Orr.

"This whole thing has pulled at my heart because I love this team and I love Middle Tennessee," Smith said. ". . . I'm ready to take another challenge."

Smith led the Lady Raiders to 48 wins in the past two years, the most ever in a two-year period at the school.

A challenge does await her in Tuscaloosa. Winning won't be as easy at Alabama. She takes over a program that won only 14 games in 2004-05. Coaching at a football school in the Southeastern Conference against the likes of Tennessee, Vanderbilt and LSU will be plenty tough.

But she's no stranger to Alabama. She spent four years (1989-93) on the courtside at The University of Alabama at Birmingham as an assistant before moving to MTSU.

Middle Tennessee visited Tuscaloosa on Nov. 22. The Tide squad easily won 80-66. Junior guard Marvely Nettles tossed in 11 points in 22 minutes against the Lady Raiders. Smith will be glad to have the 5-10 back-court player from Erwin High School in Birmingham on her team. Nettles' season-high points in a game were 27 in a loss to South Dakota State and 25 in a win over Michigan. Another key player returning is 6-4 center Krystle Johnson, who prepped at Hoover. Johnson had a game-high eight rebounds against Mississippi State last year. Former Hatton star Mamie Rutherford, a 6-1 guard, begins her sophomore year under Smith.

Moody, a Troy State graduate, retired at the end of season. His last game was a 60-59 heartbreaking loss to powerhouse LSU in the second round of the SEC tournament in South Carolina. The Tide upset Florida 62-58 in the opening round.

He finished his tenure with a 311-176 record including a trip to the NCAA semifinals in 1994 with Betsy Harris, Niesha Johnson and Decatur's Yolanda Watkins as the main guns for the Tide.

The Tide lost to Louisiana Tech in the semis and finished that year 26-7.

Alabama plans a news conference Wednesday introducing Smith.

  • Early departure: While the Tide added one coach, another coach is leaving. Orlando Early is leaving the Tide family to join the University of Louisiana-Monroe as its head basketball coach. Early, 37, has been a Tide assistant for the past four years.

    Reports say Early has a four-year deal with Louisiana-Monroe at base salary of $115,000. His departure was no surprise. Some magazines listed him No. 3 nationally on the top assistant coaches' list.

    Louisiana-Monroe is joining the Sun Belt Conference next season.

  • Diamond notes: The 22nd-ranked and conference-leading Tide baseball team entertains Memphis tonight at 6:30.

    Lefty Wade LeBlanc (2-1, 2.88 ERA) is returning from a shoulder injury sustained in a postgame celebration against Miami-Ohio on March 11. He will likely be on a pitch count and could get the early hook. Alabama is 6-0 against Memphis in Tuscaloosa.

    SEC Player of the Week Gabe Scott has a 21-game hitting streak for Alabama (24-10). Scott, a senior outfielder, is carrying a .407 average at the plate.

  • Net notes: The Billy Pate-coached Tide tennis team fell on the road to LSU 5-2 on Sunday, but has a chance to improve on its 7-14 record Wednesday.

    The Tide will play Samford at 1 and UAB at 6 p.m. in Tuscaloosa.

    Winless in the SEC this season, Alabama travels to Auburn for a Saturday match. It begins at 5 p.m.

  • Michael Wetzel Michael Wetzel
    DAILY Assistant Sports Editor

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