Published October 16, 2012
GREENSBORO, N.C. – Duke is back in a familiar spot — atop the Atlantic Coast Conference in women's basketball.
The Blue Devils were picked to win the ACC on Tuesday in voting results announced at the league's preseason media day.
Duke received 29 first-place votes from a panel of 47 media members and school representatives, with Maryland receiving the other 18 No. 1 votes.
It's the eighth time since preseason voting began in 1991 that the Blue Devils were selected as favorites and the 12th straight year they were picked in the top three.
"We're pretty hungry. We realize the talent in the league — the league's great — (but) it's all about the postseason," coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "It's all about what you do at the end."
The panel selected Georgia Tech third, followed by Virginia, North Carolina and Miami. The bottom half of the poll consists of Florida State, North Carolina State, Wake Forest, Clemson, Virginia Tech and Boston College.
"This is about as wide open a poll as there may be," N.C. State coach Kellie Harper said.
Half of the 10-woman preseason all-conference team consists of Maryland and Duke players. The Terrapins' Alyssa Thomas was selected as the preseason player of the year and was joined by teammates Laurin Mincy and Tianna Hawkins.
Thomas' selection came following a strong sophomore season in which she became the ACC's first underclassman to win both the league player of the year and tournament MVP awards. She averaged 17 points and led the Terrapins to the regional finals of the NCAA tournament.
"There's still so much to do," Thomas said. "We still haven't gotten a national championship, and we haven't gotten a win at Duke yet. So there's a lot more left to do these next two years."
The two Blue Devils on the all-ACC team are sophomore Elizabeth Williams and junior Chelsea Gray.
They're two of the four starters who return from a team that went 27-6, claimed the No. 1 seed in the league tournament for the third straight year and claimed a third straight spot in the NCAA tournament regional finals — yet once again fell short of the program's first Final Four since 2006.
"March and April is when we want to be playing, and when we want to be playing our best basketball," guard Haley Peters said. "We want to be champions in our conference and to make it to a Final Four, that's obviously everybody's goal. And not getting there makes it so that you can't be satisfied. We had a good year last year, learned a lot at the end of the season, but coming up short leaves a bad taste in your mouth."
They return each of their top six scorers and nearly 89 percent of their point production from a year ago. Williams averaged 14 points and a league-best 3.6 blocked shots as a freshman, while do-everything guard Gray added 12.5 points and an ACC-best 6.2 assists.
For now, the issue is Duke's health. The Blue Devils figure to be loaded once all of last year's injuries get fully healed, but McCallie said they aren't quite there yet.
She described Williams as a "work in progress" as she recovers from a stress fracture in her lower right leg — she played through it during the NCAA tournament — and probably will be back next month. Amber Henson, the younger sister of former North Carolina forward John Henson, likely won't be ready until December, nearly a year after surgery repaired her right kneecap.
In an effort to preserve her players' health and keep them fresh all year, McCallie said the Blue Devils haven't fully started preseason practice yet.
"We may not be out of the blocks quite like we want, relative to injury or perhaps when we chose to start," McCallie said. "But I think what we're looking for is the March-April kind of experience."
The other five all-ACC players were Georgia Tech's Tyaunna Marshall, Florida State's Natasha Howard, Virginia's Ataira Franklin, N.C. State's Marissa Kastanek and Miami's Stefanie Yderstrom.