staff writer David Carty profiles the women's team and their chances this year.
Currently, the women's basketball team is platooning two players at the point. Junior Alie Bernier and freshman Andrea Kosek have received nearly equal time to this point in the year and should continue to see split time as the season progresses.
Bernier logged the most minutes per game last season during the Lions' injury-plagued 2005-06 campaign. In addition, she was the only player with a double-digit scoring average at 10.4 points per game while taking 100 more shots than anyone else on the team except for sophomore Maude Okrah. Her diminished role may be a tough adjustment for Bernier, who proved to be a spark for the Emerson offense. However, her new role could benefit the team nicely. More rest should lead to better production when she hits the court.
Kosek has also proven her ability to run the Emerson offense early in the season. Coach Melissa Hart trusts her abilities on the court. However, inconsistency is bound to be an issue, as it is with most incoming freshmen. Kosek has struggled offensively to this point in the young season, but expect improvement as maturity and familiarity set in.
The big question is whether or not Lindsay DeStefano is ready to be one of the team's premier scorers. Her 7.8 points per game last year was second best on the team and she has nearly doubled that in the early goings of this season. DeStefano is certainly a long-range threat and a force to be reckoned with on defense. She led the team with 39 steals and also contributed 12 blocks last season. The question, however, of whether or not she can anchor the Emerson offense still remains.
The problem with Emerson's guard play is that they have a lot to prove. Bernier was inconsistent at times last season.
DeStefano is going to have an increased load on her shoulders. Kosek is young and is also going to have a lot on her plate right away.
The talent is there in the backcourt, but there are still question marks that will need to be answered as the season marches forward.
More strength lies in the Lions' ability to work the ball into the post. Okrah figures to be another prominent figure in the Emerson offense. Though DeStefano and Okrah could both play a two or a three, Okrah's athletic abilities make her a better fit at the three spot. She played an increasingly important role as the season wore on last year, becoming a permanent fixture down the stretch. Okrah is one of the most vocal players on the team and has willingly taken on more of a leadership role. She will find a lot of playing time this season.
Playing opposite Okrah is sophomore transfer Lauren Vassallo, who is also a Beacon staff writer. Vassallo will prove to be the greatest addition to the Emerson squad from last year, and Coach Hart couldn't be happier to have her on board.
"Lauren is someone that we wanted coming out of high school. She was one of our top recruits at that time and unfortunately we didn't get her as a freshman, but luckily we finally got her as a sophomore. So, we're very happy to finally see her here," Hart said.
Vassallo sprained her ankle in the preseason but has nevertheless put up impressive numbers to begin the season. Her seven rebounds per game are the best on the team and she trails only DeStefano in scoring, with 11 points per game. When Vassallo gets back up to full speed, she will act as a great compliment to the team's perimeter shooters and help to open up the floor.
Expect her to live up to the hype and be a tremendous all-around player for the squad.
Junior Mallory Frers will once again be patrolling the low-post for the Lions, but she'll have more help this season. With the addition of Vassallo, defenders will have to guard two powerful weapons down inside. Both stand at 5'11'' and are physical when they need to be. When on the court at the same time, the Lions will pack a big punch down low.
Frers knows how to post up and work a defender in order to create the best scoring chance. Her season was shortened by injury last season and the team struggled without the lack of an inside game. Having Frers in the lineup completely changes the dynamic of the team.
Junior Becky Everett and freshman Juli McDonald will most likely come off the bench to give Frers and Vassallo time to rest during games. Everett saw playing time last season and can be counted on to help fill the void. Coach Hart is enamored with the kind of attitude McDonald brings to the team and hopes that she can find a niche on the squad. Neither player, however, is going to be able to provide what Frers can on both sides of the ball. Keeping either Frers or Vassallo on the court as often as possible is the most advantageous move the Lions can make inside.
The one knock on the Lions is that there may be no number-one scoring option and even some indecision at the starting positions. However, part of this is due to a deep bench that offers up a variety of skill sets and players who can play multiple positions.
After experiencing a slew of injuries last season, the Lions were forced to juggle their starting lineup for much of the year. This allowed for other players to gain more experience at certain positions. Despite injury struggles, the patchwork Lions still made it to the GNAC Tournament. Many of these players have returned and the Lions are now a more experienced team.
The team's lone senior, Pam Coppola, was strong on the boards last season and will be a crucial replacement for the team's first unit. Coppola will most likely receive some starts along the way. She is as aggressive as anyone on the boards and will set the tone for the team when out on the court. Junior Ellie Feitlinger can fill in at a number of positions and fills a valuable role for the Lions. Everett and McDonald, as previously mentioned, add some size to the second unit and help to balance out the squad. Kelly Kwiecinski will eat up some minutes and help out on both sides of the ball. Sophomore Bri Papa will also provide a spark off the bench and can hit shots from long range. Once completely healthy, freshman Alleigh Marre will see increased time off the bench, as well.
With so many weapons in the arsenal, Coach Hart will be able to mix and match in order to adjust to the opposition's skill set. She feels the team's depth is its greatest strength but acknowledges that it is something that needs to be worked on. "I think right now it's difficult because everyone wants to play. You have to share minutes," Hart said. "Certainly, it's a strength in that when people get injured you do always have someone else who's very good who can step in that role."
If managed correctly, the Lions could take advantage of many other teams' reserves and put some points on the board in relief of the starters.
Coach Melissa Hart has not had the easiest of coaching situations the last couple seasons. After what looked like a promising campaign last year, Hart saw the wheels unravel due to injury. Despite the fact that it was one of the women's most successful seasons in recent memory, the team never showed the abil
ity to persevere and merely got by with what they had last season.
This season, expectations will be higher as players continue to develop and get used to the system. This team should be capable of advancing further than the first round of the GNAC Tournament, but they will need to show more character this season and it will be up to Coach Hart to push that message throughout the course of the year.
In the Lions' home opener against Mount Ida College, Hart was very liberal with player substitutions. While it's important to keep players rested, it's also important to feel comfortable with your squad on the court.
Substitutions were not solely responsible for the team's 67-54 loss, but it certainly could be placed on the list. Since then, she has adjusted the game plan and it has led to three straight wins.
Balancing the team's talent and building chemistry on the court will be Hart's biggest challenge and, perhaps, the biggest test of her coaching abilities. The level of talent on this team will put Hart in the biggest position to succeed or fail. How she answers the challenge remains to be seen.
Inconsistency and injuries plagued the pride last season. Yes, injuries are part of any sport and the Lions found that out first hand last season. Rallying past these struggles is the true test of a successful team and, other than a playoff appearance, the Lions don't have much to show for last season's campaign.
With higher expectations this season, perseverance will be one of the key components to watch for this squad. The Lions are a close-knit group on and off the court and work well with one another, but that doesn't always translate to success on the court. Several players have begun filling bigger leadership roles and embracing the team as a whole, but still others don't seem committed to the system. It will take a full commitment from the entire team in order to push past where they were last season.
The other hurdle to overcome will be the position battles that are taking place throughout the course of the season. In addition to possibly creating friction between the players, it could also affect performance on the court.
Overall, the team looks poised to make an improvement from last season. They have more talent than last season and are healthier heading into the year. There will be some bumps in the road and some question marks to answer, but if this Lions squad can show some perseverance, they can show the GNAC a young group of up-and-comers ready to challenge the conference's top teams.