Western Kentucky ranked for first time in nearly 17 years

Michelle Clark-Heard said when she was hired at Western Kentucky that there was room for three ranked teams in the state. It only took three seasons for Clark-Heard to make that happen. The Lady Toppers entered The Associated Press poll on Monday at No. 25, joining Louisville and Kentucky. It's the first time that they are ranked since 1998. ''It's an awesome day for our program,'' the coach said. ''It gives me chills when you say that we're ranked. It's a great day for everyone that's ever tied their shoe here or had to do with WKU in the past.'' Clark-Heard returned to her alma mater in 2012 and helped them reach the NCAA tournament last season. Now she has them ranked. ''I was part of some amazing years here and was always checking on Western Kentucky,'' she said. ''My former teammate was the head coach here. Western Kentucky's red runs deep in me.'' The Lady Toppers are 12-2 on the season with the lone losses coming to No. 6 Louisville and No. 14 Mississippi State. They next play at Charlotte on Thursday. ''She was a big part of our success and I'm thrilled that she had a chance to go back to Western Kentucky,'' Louisville coach Jeff Walz said of his former assistant. ''We go back a long ways and to see what she's done there is great getting them back in the Top 25.'' Western Kentucky wasn't the only team to move into the poll this week. Princeton came in at No. 22 and Minnesota was 23rd. While there was a lot of change at the bottom of the poll, the top remained mostly the same. South Carolina was No. 1 for the seventh straight week. The Gamecocks opened up SEC play with victories over Auburn and LSU. Dawn Staley's team was followed by UConn, Texas, Notre Dame and Baylor. Some notes from this week's poll: HOLD THAT TIGER: Princeton entered the Top 25 for the second time in school history. The Tigers, who are one of four unbeaten teams left in women's basketball, face Hampton on Monday night in their final non-conference tuneup before Ivy League play begins on Saturday against rival Penn. The Tigers became the first Ivy League team ever to get ranked when they were No. 24 in the final poll of the 2012 season. UNBEATENS: South Carolina, Texas, Mississippi State and Princeton are the lone remaining unbeatens in women's basketball. On the other end of the spectrum, UC Santa Barbara and Illinois State are the two winless programs. WELCOME BACK: Minnesota earned its first ranking since March 13, 2006, as the Gophers entered at No. 23. They have started Big Ten play at 3-0 for the first time since 2005-06 and have won 10 straight games. Marlene Stollings' 14-1 record to begin her first season at the helm of the Minnesota program ties for the best start to a season by a Gopher first-year head coach, while she is the only first-year head coach at Minnesota to post three-straight wins to open Big Ten play. POWER SHIFT: With Duke falling back out of the Top 10, this marks the first week since March 6, 2000, that neither Duke (13th) or Stanford (15th) is among first 10 in the poll. Talk about consistency, those two teams have been on some run over the last 15 years. UPCOMING MATCHUPS: The new year brings many exciting SEC conference matchups this week beginning with Tennessee at Vanderbilt on Monday night. The seventh-ranked Lady Vols then host No. 9 Texas A&M on Thursday. The week finishes off with No. 10 Kentucky visiting No. 1 South Carolina. Other big conference games outside the SEC include No. 21 Syracuse visiting No. 13 Duke on Thursday and No. 12 Maryland at Minnesota on Sunday. --- Follow Doug on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/dougfeinberg