Saturday, April 02, 2005

Tennessee duo feel "at home" at Final Four

INDIANAPOLIS - Imagine playing in the Final Four. Now imagine playing in the Final Four in your home state.

That is the situation facing a pair of Tennessee starters - senior forward Shyra Ely and junior guard Shanna Zolman - before their team's national semifinal matchup with Michigan State on Sunday.

Not only do these two players have the pressure of trying to re-establish the Lady Volunteers atop the women's college basketball pecking order, but the now face the daunting task of trying to fill the numerous ticket requests of family and friends.

Those acquaintances will want to go to open practices and luncheons, even hang out with the team, so that they will have their own piece of what could be a memorable championship season. And when are Ely and Zolman supposed to study?

So how do these two student-athletes avoid all the distractions? They rely on their parents.

"Well, I had people coming out of the woodwork," said Ely. "I just left it up to my mother to deal with and she's done a great job. She's been just as busy as I am with phone calls and everything."

Indiana's Miss Basketball in 2001, Ely starred in three sports, including volleyball and track, at Ben Davis High School right here in Indianapolis. If it were possible, her devoted fans could fill half of the RCA Dome.

"I'm really expecting a lot of, like a ton of family and friends and, yeah, I didn't want to get involved with it because it's just too much. I got too much on my plate right now to be focusing on rather than tickets," said Ely, who is appearing in her fourth Final Four, but remains in search of her first title.

For Zolman, who captured the Hoosier State's Miss Basketball title in 2002 out of Wawasee High School in the northern part of the state, the demand is not as great but still there.

"Similar to Shyra, I left that up to my parents to handle," Zolman said.

With that distraction out of the way, Zolman can focus on more important things like adjusting to the environment of the RCA Dome.

"Coming in, the depth perception of everything is so vast and wide," Zolman said. "That's what these shootarounds are for - just being able to get acclimated to the rims and being able to adjust to the lighting as well."

Having confidence in her shot will be of the utmost importance for Zolman, who is averaging a team-high 16.8 points per game in the NCAA Tournament.

On the season, Zolman ranked second in the Southeastern Conference in both 3-point shooting percentage (.430) and free-throw percentage (.870). She has made 67 3-pointers this season and ranks second on the all-time list at Tennessee with 162.

For the 6-2 Ely, she will have to deal with the physical inside presence of the Spartans, highlighted by forward Liz Shimek and 6-4 center Kelli Roehrig.

The team's leading scorer in all games this season at 14.5 points per contest, Ely has pick up her play since moving from small forward to power forward following teammate Sidney Spencer's injury on February 24.

"With Sidney going out, that kind of opened up the fourth spot for me," Ely said. "It's pretty natural to me and I feel like that's my bread and butter and I'm really happy that that's where I'm playing at this point of the season."

Based upon the number of ticket requests the mothers of Ely and Zolman have fielded, the daughters are not alone.

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