by Mike Potter
It's been 34 years since anyone but Kay Yow was patrolling the sidelines for a season opener as the women's head basketball coach at N.C. State.
Tonight things will be different as Kellie Harper, named in April to fill the full-time vacancy left by Yow's death in January following a 22-year fight with breast cancer, makes her debut as the Wolfpack's head coach.
Florida International, which beat the State 58-42 last season in Miami, will be the opponent in the 8 p.m. nightcap of the first evening of the Sheraton Raleigh Wolfpack Invitational. That contest follows the tournament's 6 p.m. opener between Vermont (21-12) and Western Michigan (7-23).
All three Triangle ACC women's teams open their regular-season schedules tonight. No. 5 UNC will tip off against the College of Charleston at 7 p.m. at the Smith Center, while No. 6 Duke visits Houston Baptist in a homecoming game for Karima Christmas and the opener of a two-game Texas road trip.
Harper has been waiting to be head coach at a big-time program since her playing days ended as Tennessee, where the point guard was part of three NCAA championships under Coach Pat Summitt.
"We're proud of our players and how tuned into our staff they've been," said Harper, who was 97-65 in five seasons at Western Carolina. "For me, I really try to be focused on the task at hand. If I sit in my office and dwell on who I'm following and what she has meant to the university, the state, women's basketball in general it could be overwhelming.
"I try to focus each day on what I'm trying to get done and try to be me. I just try to do things the way Kellie Harper should do them."
Good news for the Wolfpack is that only one player, leading scorer Shayla Fields, was lost to graduation.
UNC and Duke also lost key players, as the Tar Heels' Rashanda McCants and the Blue Devils' Chante Black and Abby Waner were selected in the WNBA draft, but for both of them it may have been just a matter of reloading.
The Tar Heels do have one major question mark heading into the season as senior post Jessica Breland is suffering from Hodgkin's lymphoma and may not play this season. She definitely will not dress for tonight's game, but could play in as many as nine early-season games before Coach Sylvia Hatchell decides whether or not she will redshirt.
Florida International at N.C. State
First round, Sheraton Raleigh Wolfpack Invitational
[Friday, 8 p.m., Reynolds Coliseum]
FIU leads series 1-0
Records (2008-09) FIU 6-24, NCSU 13-17.
Audio: WKNC-FM 88.1, GoPack.com, FIUSports.com.
Video: www.GoPack.com, FIUSports.com.
Coaches' records - FIU: Cindy Russo 617-308, 577-286 at FIU; NCSU: Kellie Harper 97-65, 0-0 at NCSU.
Leading scorers - (returnees from 08-09) FIU: Monika Bosilj 14.4; NCSU: Sharnise Beal 11.5.
Leading rebounders - (returnees from 08-09) FIU: Elisa Carey 9.7; NCSU: Lucy Ellison 6.8
Assist leaders - (returnees from 08-09) FIU: Michelle Gonzalez 4.1; NCSU: Nikitta Gartrell 3.4.
College of Charleston at No. 5 UNC
[Friday, 7 p.m., Smith Center]
Records (2008-09) CoC 23-8, UNC 28-7
UNC leads series 10-1
Audio: WCHL-AM 1360, TarHeelBlue.com, CofCSports.com
Leading scorers - (returnees from 08-09) CoC: Tonia Gerty 11.6; UNC: Jessica Breland 14.1.
Leading rebounders - (returnees from 08-09) CoC: Deidra Jones 6.1; UNC: Jessica Breland 8.5.
Assist leaders - (returnees from 08-09) CoC: Tonia Gerty 3.9; UNC: Cetera DeGraffenreid 4.1.
No. 6 Duke at Houston Baptist
[Friday, 8:30 p.m., Sharp Gym, Houston]
Records (2008-09) Duke 27-6, HBU 8-21.
Audio: WDNC-AM 620, GoDuke.com.
Coaches' records - Duke: Joanne P. McCallie 368-164, 52-16 at Duke; HBU: Todd Buchanan 96-79, 77-43 at HBU.
Leading scorers - (returnees from 08-09) Duke: Jasmine Thomas 10.2; HBU: Raquel Jones .
Leading rebounders - (returnees from 08-09) Duke: Joy Cheek 4.7; HBU: Jamie Spriggs 6.6.
Assist leaders - (returnees from 08-09) Duke: Jasmine Thomas 3.3; HBU: Raquel Jones 2.7.