Troutman taking Division I plunge at Coastal Carolina

By Jamie Combs
SPORTS EDITOR
jcombs@starhq.com

   Like barbed-wire coils wrapped around the top of a chain-link, prison-yard fence, Cyndie Troutman's presence on the basketball court doesn't provide an easy escape.
   "She fits the bill for what we're looking for -- a girl that is tough," said Alan LeForce, women's head basketball coach at Coastal Carolina University. "She's very aggressive, and she's able to put the ball on the floor and take it to the basket.
   "Cyndie's got a good outside shot and she's mature -- she comes from a good junior college program. I look for her to be one of our leaders."
   Signing a scholarship to play for LeForce and his Lady Chanticleers, Troutman, a 5-9 guard, will continue a career that includes two very good years at Walters State Community College and four honor-filled years at Hampton High.
   "My biggest decision was whether to stay at home or leave," said Troutman, "but (Coastal) had a really good offer for me."
   After entertaining additional collegiate offers from King, Bluefield and Lees-McRae, Troutman didn't have to choose a school located on the eastern edge of South Carolina (Conway). However, she couldn't pass up the opportunity to join an NCAA Division I program.
   "That probably played the biggest part in my decision," Troutman said. "In three of the last four years, they've been a game away from the NCAA tournament. They've got a good, stable program and I wanted an opportunity to be a part of that."
   Another perk is getting the chance to play under a highly-successful mentor in LeForce, who is closing in on the 500-win plateau as a head coach.
   During his six seasons (1991-96) as men's head coach at East Tennessee State University, LeForce chalked up 108 victories (second most in Buccaneer history) and led the Buccaneers to two NCAA tournament appearances, highlighted by a first-round upset of Arizona in 1992.
   His .607 winning percentage at ETSU is an all-time best for Buc coaches with at least five years of service.
   "It's a really good opportunity," said Troutman, projected as a "two" guard at Coastal. "Watching him from when I was young, I saw him taking ETSU to the national tournament. He's been successful coaching women's basketball, too. I look forward to playing for him."
   When LeForce stepped in as Coastal's head coach five years ago, he inherited a program that had suffered through 11 consecutive losing seasons. He halted that streak his second year with the team, a three-time Big South Conference tournament finalist under his guidance.
   If Coastal can take the next step and win the Big South tournament within the next two years, Troutman will find herself in the NCAA tournament.
   "That's something you work for your whole life," she said. "It's great to have a chance to be able to go to it."
   Said LeForce: "In five years we've been to three (Big South tourney) finals, but we haven't been able to get over that hump. We're always the bridesmaid. Maybe Cyndie is that missing piece of the puzzle to get us over the hump."
   Walters State head coach Dave Kragel knows that his loss is Coastal Carolina's gain.
   "She's a great kid," Kragel said of Troutman. "I'm going to miss her a tremendous amount. She's done a real good job for us for two seasons. I'm real happy for her to be going to Coastal Carolina. There's no doubt in my mind she will do a great job."
   Obviously, the junior-college route is paying solid dividends for Troutman. She said she is definitely a better player than the one she was two years ago.
   "Junior college has helped me out so much," she said. "The competition I've faced is stronger than any NAIA school, or any high school competition I ever faced.
   "Playing for Coach Kragel the last two years has been a big influence on me as far as my ability to play and be more successful."
   Also, it's worth noting that Troutman is following the same path as former Happy Valley standout Cheri McNeil, who played under Kragel at Walters State, then LeForce at Coastal.
   McNeil flourished in both systems.
   "When Cyndie goes down there, she's bringing to them a toughness they have not seen since Cheri McNeil," Kragel said.
   Last but not least, Troutman becomes the first Hampton Lady Bulldog to join an NCAA Division I program -- a feat that speaks volumes about her ability as Hampton has produced a good many collegiate players over the years.
   "That was her goal coming out of high school," said Doug Phillips, Troutman's high school head coach. "She could have gone to a smaller school, but the reason she went to Walters State was that she wanted to go to a Division I school.
   "And I guess that's what she's accomplished. That's a good accomplishment for her."
   Troutman, who tallied more than 1,700 points during her Lady Bulldog career, hopes that her achievement will be matched by future Lady Bulldogs.
   "Maybe other people will want to establish that goal," she said. "This can possibly give Hampton a name where other schools will come and look at future players."