By RODNEY PAGE
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 3, 2000
Eckerd College women's basketball coach Brian Shultes was quietly optimistic about his team as he entered his fourth season.
There was a mixture of experience and talented freshmen, but how they would play together remained to be seen.
So far, so good.
Eckerd owned a 6-0 record entering Friday night's game against Palm Beach Atlantic. That is the Tritons' best start since Shultes arrived.
Considering that Eckerd hasn't been at the .500 mark since the 1988-89 season, there is reason for optimism.
"I love this team," Shultes said. "This is the most talented group I've had since I've been here.
"They have a passion to play, and are really excited about being out there," he said. "It's a great group."
It is led by a core of returnees that includes junior forward Felecia Felton, junior guard Brandi Pringle, senior guard Katie Cole, junior guard Julia Huddleston and senior guard Myonitra Faulk.
But the players who have returned are not doing it alone.
Freshmen Noreen McCallum and Elizabeth Lally, both from Southern Regional High School in Mayetta, N.J., have made a big impact.
Freshmen Haley Hord of Rock Hill, S.C., Meredith Cook of Macon, Ga. and Rachel Thompson of Port Fortin, Trinidad, have contributed.
Thompson is the sister of former Eckerd standout Kerwin Thompson. Nicole Huebener of St. Petersburg Catholic is on the Tritons' roster.
"We have an outstanding freshman class," Shultes said. "A lot of them are getting significant playing time, around 18 minutes a game.
"It gives us some depth that we didn't have in the past."
Granted, it's early.
Most of Eckerd's big games are a month away when the Sunshine State Conference schedule begins. And there is a trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico, coming up Dec. 16.
But with a solid group, the Tritons should not be overlooked by conference opponents.
In a poll of conference coaches and sports information directors prior to the season, Eckerd was picked to finish sixth. Usually the Tritons are tabbed eighth.
It may not be much, but Eckerd is getting noticed.
"I thought we could start the season like this," Shultes said.
"You never know what's going to happen, and we've had a few injuries. But, so far, the team's playing well."
ECKERD MEN: Not to be outdone, the Eckerd men's squad was 5-0 after a 79-62 win over Puerto Rico-Cayey.
The Tritons took both games in last weekend's Eckerd College Classic, turning back Puerto Rico-Humacao and Mercyhurst College.
Eckerd is getting solid contributions from Dwayne Smith, who was 8-for-10 from the field against Puerto Rico-Cayey, Lester Chang-Fong, Josef Soderman, Clevon Dunbar and former Lakewood standout Brian Stapf.
On Monday and Tuesday, the Tritons will play in the Sunshine State Conference-Disney Challenge against Columbus State University and Benedict College.
SPJC: Through Tuesday's game at Indian River Community College, the St. Petersburg Junior College men's team was 5-4.
Leading the way so far for the Trojans has been sophomore forward Kyle Scheuller, a Lakewood graduate and Central Florida transfer.
Local products Lonnell West (Lakewood), Patrick McMullen (St. Petersburg Catholic) and Raymond Thomas (Pinellas Park) have contributed.
Through Tuesday's game at Seminole Community College, the SPJC women were 4-4.
The Trojans played Friday night at Tallahassee Community College in the fourth of six straight road games.
LaTavia Stephens, Marcy Goodson and Tori McGee have been the key players so far.