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Currie unsure about return

It’s the same story for the women’s basketball team—another season full of lofty expectations, another trip back to Durham empty handed.

Even though All-American Monique Currie may forfeit her final year of eligibility and jump to the WNBA, with a top recruiting class and all their other key players back next year, the Blue Devils could break through and win their first National Championship.

Currie maintained all year that she would carefully consider the move after the season was over and has yet to make up her mind. After her team’s season-ending 59-49 loss to Louisiana State, Currie said that not winning the National Championship will factor into her decision about whether to remain for her final year.

“We’ve talked a couple of times, and she’s still weighing her options,” head coach Gail Goestenkors said. “She wants to win a National Championship, and she wants to go to grad school eventually.”

With or without Currie, however, Duke expects to be a much deeper and more dynamic team next season.

“We were right there with LSU, and we ran out of gas at the end,” Goestenkors said of the team’s Monday night loss in the Elite Eight. “I felt that some of it might have to do with numbers. We’ll have more depth next year and that will allow us to have better balance.”

Duke was forced to play a variety of awkward lineups this season with only seven or eight players healthy enough to step onto the floor. Even if Currie chooses to leave, the Blue Devils will be stocked with 13 other players during the 2005-2006 campaign.

Part of the increased depth will be provided by two players whom the program already knows well. Lindsey Harding, who was suspended before the season began for an undisclosed violation of team policy, is expected to return next year. Harding was an All-ACC defensive player her sophomore year, as well as being one of the best floor leaders in the country.

Her presence in the lineup at point guard should shore up what was at times a shaky position for the team this year. Joining Harding on the active roster will be sharp-shooting guard Emily Waner, who sat out the season after transferring from Colorado.

Emily will likely be overshadowed, though, when her younger sister Abby Waner comes to Duke next year as one of the most heralded recruits since Currie or Alana Beard. Waner scored nine points in the McDonald’s All-American game Wednesday, adding to her list of accolades that includes McDonald’s and Gatorade National Player of the Year awards.

Waner figures to fit in the guard rotation besides Harding and the returning ACC All-Freshman point guard Wanisha Smith. With Waner and Harding on board, Smith will be able to spend more time at the shooting guard position, where she is more comfortable.

“I think we’ll be much more up-tempo again next year,” Goestenkors said. “We’ll have better passers to get the posts the ball and more shooters so people can’t double team as much as they did this year.”

Waner will be joined by three other top-flight recruits in Carrem Gay, Brittany Mitch and Keturah Jackson. Together, the recruiting class was tabbed second best in the nation by the Blue Star Report and the All-Star Girls Report. Gay made national headlines early this season when she became the fourth female high school player ever to dunk in a game.

“I think they’re all going to contribute right away,” Goestenkors said.

Add those four to a team with a now well experienced frontcourt that includes Mistie Williams, Chante Black and Alison Bales, and Duke’s team seems almost too deep.

“It offers a new set of challenges,” Goestenkors said. “It’s very easy when you only have seven or eight players to substitute because you only have so many options. Chemistry has been very, very good for us and when you have so many players all vying for playing time I think chemistry can be an issue. People will have to understand that while their playing time may go down your production needs to go up.”

For a coach, though, the problem of too much depth is one that would be taken in a heartbeat over too little. One concern for the team could be which returning player would fill Currie’s shoes as a leader.

“We’ll have players who will step forward,” Goestenkors said. “Mistie will be comfortable in that role. Jess will be more prepared for that role, so will Lindsey.”

But the question for the Blue Devils has never really been a dearth of talent but rather the inability to put all the pieces together. The expectations will be as high as ever next year.

“I’m excited,” Goestenkors said. “We’re all working towards a common goal, and that’s winning a national championship.”

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