By SETH STRINGER
NICEVILLE - Tamela McCorvey racks her brain, the national rankings of Panhandle Conference teams rolling off her tongue.
There's Gulf Coast State at No. 1, followed by Chipola at No. 3.
Tallahassee comes in at No. 11, followed by her Raiders and Pensacola State at 14th and 15th.
Five teams, five spots in the top 15.
Together the quintet are a combined 76-4. Together the quintet make up unquestionably the most-loaded conference in the country.
Yep, this conference season ought to be fun.
"Yes it should," McCorvey said. "I can't remember a year where it's been this good from from top to bottom."
That says a lot considering she's been with the Raiders for a collective 10 years - two as a player, five as an assistant and the last three as head coach. That head coaching stint includes pushing NWF State's elite eight streak in the national tournament to four years.
"It just shows how hard our girls work," McCorvey said of the continued success. "This is a tough conference but they fight and battle and do what it takes to be successful in this league."
Talk about a perennial power, joining defending champion Gulf Coast State and Chipola in that regard.
Because of the stacked parity, the significance of tonight's conference opener against Pensacola State is amplified.
"To start the conference season off with a win would be a huge confidence-booster," said McCorvey, whose crew tips off at 5:30 p.m. "Look how we lost the first game of the season. Had we won that game we'd have had a better mindset, matured a little earlier. We still did well, but to start off with a win would set the right tone."
The Raiders enter conference play 13-2 and on a five-game win streak. The Pirates are 16-1 and have also won six straight, including a conference-opening win over Tallahassee.
NWF State has no shortage of that, 6-foot-3 "Fruit" Oliver playing alongside a 6-foot power forward Britney Snowden (now healthy), 6-foot wing Jade Lewis and 6-1 forward Juanisha Young.
"We like to work the ball inside-out," McCorvey said.
The Raiders also like to run. And run some more. And then, for good measure, run a bit more.
Forcing 23 turnovers, led by Britney Snowden's 3.1 steals per game and Berniezha Tidwell's 3 swipes a night, feeds that transition-minded offense. As does sporting a plus-seven rebounding margin to set up the outlet pass.
Even so, McCorvey has said all season she'd like to see her team be more aggressive, attack the basket earlier in the shot clock.
"We're getting there," McCorvey said. "It's just about gaining that confidence and executing."
But this is a new season. Where playing top 15 teams will be the norm during a 12-game league slate that bleeds into the Region 8 tournament.
"As coaches we definitely prepare them for conference play and try to emulate the toughness in practice," McCorvey said. "But it's one of those things you have to experience. Until you finally see it, that's when you realize it's a different place and a different pace."
The Raiders enter Wednesday outscoring teams 69-52 on the season, a figure that will not continue. But with Tidwell adding to the backcourt, Snowden healthy and the run-and-gun offense being fine-tuned every practice, the 40.8 field goal and 26.5 3-point percentages should only improve.
Lewis' 12.2 points lead the team, followed by Snowden's 11.6 points, Oliver's 9.7 and Jasmine Rhodes' 9.3.