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Goestenkors preps for Olympic shift

Having already led the Blue Devils to three Final Four appearances, Duke women's basketball head coach Gail Goestenkors is used to being a leader on one of the biggest stages in the world of college basketball.

But this summer, Goestenkors will take to one of the largest stages in the world, albeit in a smaller role.

The Duke coach is going Greek, working with the national women's basketball team as it heads to Athens with the hopes of adding another gold to its four Olympic crowns.

"It is an incredible honor [to represent the U.S.]," Goestenkors said. "As a little girl, I dreamed of playing in the Olympics, until I realized I wasn't good enough. It is a special feeling to be there in any fashion."

Although Goestenkors will not be at the helm of the national team, she will be pacing the sidelines with head coach Van Chancellor, who has steered the Houston Comets to four WNBA championships. Chancellor also led the 2000 Olympic team to gold in Sydney, Australia.

 Goestenkors will be joined in the assistant ranks by Anne Donovan, the head coach of the WNBA's Seattle Sparks, and Vivian Stringer, the Rutgers head coach. The combination of Chancellor, Goestenkors and Donovan has proven successful in the past; the trio helped the 2002 World Championship squad tally a 9-0 record and earn a goal medal in China.

Goestenkors has gotten used to the head coaching role--she's held the post at Duke since 1992--but the Blue Devils' coach is still comfortable as an assistant. "For someone that likes to be in charge and likes to be in control, it's a different feel," Goestenkors said. "I really enjoy that opportunity to step back and let someone else run the practices and do whatever Van needs me to do to help the team win. It's a different feel. When you're in your own practice, you don't hesitate to say exactly what's on your mind, but when you're an assistant, you have to step back a little bit and wait for your turn. I think it's helped me empathize a little bit more with my assistants here."

The Duke coach's primary team duty will be scouting the opponents, a role she also took on for the 2002 team. Nine of the 12 members of the gold medal-winning squad will return for this Olympic run, and many of the opponents Goestenkors will be breaking down are familiar.

Two of the new faces on the 2004 team are players Goestenkors has coached against in college when they played for Connecticut: Swin Cash, who graduated in 2002, and Diana Taurasi, who wrapped up her college career this season with a national title.

Former Duke standout Alana Beard, Taurasi's college nemesis, failed to make the team. Beard--averaging about eight points per game for the WNBA's Washington Mystics--was disappointed not to make the squad, Goestenkors said.

"I think her time will come," Goestenkors said. "There are only 12 spots on the team."

Before heading to Athens in time for the Aug. 13 opening ceremonies, the team will face a WNBA All-Star team Aug. 5 at Radio City Music Hall in New York as part of a five-day training period.

Although the American team likely has the most talent, it will have to overcome the challenge of spending very limited time playing together. Since many of the opposing teams play together all year, building chemistry will be a priority for the U.S. coaching staff.

The team, however, has taken several European tours in the winter to acclimate the players with the offensive and defensive sets. Because the Blue Devils were in season, Goestenkors was not able to make the trips with the team.

Goestenkors' commitment to the national team cuts into time on the recruiting trail for Duke, but she hopes to use the exposure in Athens to her advantage. Most importantly, Goestenkors relishes the opportunity to do something she knows many other coaches will never get the chance to do.

"It is an incredible experience [and] hard to pick out the greatest moment," Goestenkors said. "I always love coaching players who have the same passion for the game."

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