BRIDGEPORT -- First-year Fairmont State women's coach Steve McDonald got an early commitment Monday, when Bridgeport standout Erica Rome signed to join the Falcons' team in the 2001-2002 basketball season.
Rome, a first-team all-state selection last year, averaged 17.7 points to help lead the Indians to the Class AA basketball tournament for the first time in school history.
She said the early signing will help her focus entirely on making a second consecutive trip to the Charleston Civic Center.
"I feel like a load of bricks has been taken off of my shoulders," Rome said. "It's refreshing to know all that stuff about worrying what school's watching you is over.
"We're pretty excited around here. We know it won't be easy, but we're trying to get another shot in the state tournament. Now I can just concentrate on helping this team."
Rome said she entertained offers from Salem International, Bethany and Allegheny and recently had been contacted by Marshall. However, McDonald's enthusiasm, along with an uptempo offense and aggressive, in-your-face defense, swayed her decision.
Bridgeport coach Dave Marshall said the fit was perfect for both and said Rome's work ethic and love of the game will help her make an impact at the next level.
"With any kid, it's a quicker game and stronger game," Marshall said. "She's got a real quick first step and is always trying to get better. They'll put the muscle on her that she needs to have.
"She'll probably have to be a little more consistent with her shot, but I don't think that's going to be a problem. I know she'll work on that or whatever she has to."
Rome hit 15 3-point shots last year to lead Bridgeport but agreed with Marshall in saying that she needs to improve her shooting.
"I'd like to come in and make an impact quickly, but I know it's going to be a learning experience first," Rome said.
Rome said she planned on majoring in elementary education -- another factor leading to her decision.
"Now it's time to concentrate on this team, again," Rome said. "We're playing in the Coal Classic and know it will be tough competition, but we want to be the best team we can.
"I don't think we've had one bad practice yet. Now, I can't really think of any other goals for myself. Only for this team."
Sports writer Mike Nutter can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at email@example.com