STOLLINGS, RAMS IN TRANSITION

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First-year coach Marlene Stollings’ up-tempo style of play has been well-received by returning players.

RICHMOND, Va. – Marlene Stollings has always been most comfortable in transition. As a player, she was at her best when the court was wide open and the possibilities were unlimited.

Her mindset in her first season as the coach of the VCU Women’s Basketball team isn’t much different. Stollings, who led Winthrop to an 18-13 record a year ago, will try to guide the Rams through a major makeover in 2012-13.

There has been heavy roster turnover. Four of the Rams’ top five scorers have either graduated or transferred, including All-American Courtney Hurt (22.3 ppg, 13.1 rpg) and Andrea Barbour (17.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg). VCU’s leading returning scorer is junior Robyn Parks, who averaged 6.6 points per game last season. There are five freshmen on the roster and several others with limited in-game experience.

But Stollings doesn’t seem bothered.

“It’s been an extraordinary journey so far,” she said. “We’re just looking and moving forward with all of our thoughts and actions. The transition has been a bit of a whirlwind in terms of our lateness of arriving here, but nonetheless, it’s been extraordinary so far.”

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2011-12 VCU WOMEN’S BASKETBALL PREVIEW

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All-American Courtney Hurt led the nation in rebounding (12.4 rpg) and double-doubles (25) last season. She also ranked second nationally in scoring (23.2 ppg)

When Beth Cunningham took over as head coach in 2003, there was exactly one postseason banner hanging inside the Verizon Wireless Arena for the women’s basketball program.

If that wasn’t bad enough by itself, that lonely piece of fabric was old enough that the tournament it was intended to celebrate, the National Women’s Invitation Tournament, had changed its name since the Rams’ 1995 appearance.

Now there are five banners, including a giant gold and white one from VCU’s 2009 NCAA Tournament appearance. In Cunningham’s eight seasons at the helm, the Rams have rewritten VCU Women’s Basketball history. VCU has reached the postseason in four consecutive seasons. The Rams are working on a school-record streak of five straight winning seasons. Three of the program’s four 20-win campaigns have come under her watch. The school’s all-time leader in victories with 148, Cunningham has coached two WNBA draft picks and an All-American.

At this point, when she takes inventory of the program, Cunningham doesn’t have to ask what the Rams have done, it’s what they still need to do. When she looks up into that northwest corner of the arena, she knows the answer. The Rams are still chasing their elusive first conference championship, Colonial Athletic Association or otherwise. VCU reached the championship game in 2008, another first for the program, but fell to Old Dominion.

“It’s something that you’d like to have already done, hang a championship banner, but there’s been so many good things that have happened with our program…it’s part of the building process,” Cunningham, 148-100 in eight seasons, said.

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