By Meredith Cook
Special to goholycross.com
The Holy Cross women's basketball team will combine the experience of its seasoned veterans and the clear talent of its fresh faces as it preps for the 2010-2011 season. Head coach Bill Gibbons returns to the helm for his 26th season, as he also enters his 30th season as a member of the Holy Cross basketball coaching family. After witnessing a disappointing 2009-2010 season, Gibbons remains confident that this year's team has the capability to answer the frustration left from last year. He will rely on the knowledge and skill set of his two seniors and lone junior to bring the squad back to New England and Patriot League dominance, as he named seniors Whitney Fremeau and Alyssa May and junior Meredith Ward the 2010-2011 team captains. The squad will also make immediate use of its large freshman class, as five newcomers look to make an instant impact on the program. "With the graduation of five seniors over the spring, we will look for this freshman class to work hard and contribute right away donning the purple and white," said Gibbons.
In all, the 2010-2011 Crusaders return three starters from last season and bring back six of the 12 letterwinners. With the addition of the five freshmen, the 11-deep roster provides depth at every position. The team is also coming off a 2009-2010 campaign in which it posted an overall mark of 10-21, the lowest wins tally in program history. The Crusaders also tied for fourth in the Patriot League with a 5-9 mark in conference games, before making a run to the semifinals of the Patriot League Tournament. The squad will also look to fill the shoes of two 1,000-point scorers, Briana McFadden and Bethany O'Dell, who graduated as two of the top-10 all-time scorers at Holy Cross. "Briana and Bethany had terrific careers here, and they are definitely a big loss to our program," remarked Gibbons. "However, I know that what we have this year will be a good start to filling that spot which those two have left."
With the challenge set to bounce back from a down season and with a team ready and anxious to accept the test, this year's Holy Cross women's basketball team is definitely positioned to return to its championship form.
The 2010-2011 frontcourt will be led by Fremeau, who topped the team in rebounding last year and ranking 10th in the league as well with an average of 5.4 rebounds per game. She is also a threat not only on defense but on offense as well as she also posted a 12.3 scoring average, ranking seventh amongst league individuals and third on the team. She was named to the second team All-Patriot League for her efforts as well. "Whitney really came into her own last season and will play the top of our presses and use her athleticism to stop the ball on defense," said Gibbons.
Also returning will be sophomore forward/guard Amy Lepley, who was named to the Patriot League All-Rookie team after averaging 23.7 minutes, 6.7 points and 4.0 rebounds per game last season. Lepley also claimed six Patriot League Rookie of the Week awards and recorded a team-best two double-doubles. "Amy had a terrific freshman year coming off her ACL injury in her senior year of high school. We're looking for her to be at 100 percent strength and have a great year this year," remarked Gibbons.
Another pleasant surprise emerging in the preseason was sophomore forward Kaitlin Cole, who appeared in 22 games last season. She averaged 1.2 points and 1.1 rebounds per game as a freshman, while also marking six steals and four assists. "Kaitlin got some valuable minutes last year as a freshman," said Gibbons. "But she's definitely played even better for us in the preseason and will be a big contribor to our frontcourt."
Rounding out the group will be freshman Christine Ganser. The Needham, Mass. native played for Needham High School, where she was a three-time team MVP. She averaged 24.7 points and 11.2 rebounds per game as a senior, finishing her career with over 1,500 points. "Christine has earned some valuable reps in our practices this fall and has showed some valuable signs and progress in the preseason," said Gibbons. "She will complete our four-deep frontcourt as all of the girls fit into the style of game that we want to play."
The backcourt will see two unfamiliar faces, as McFadden and O'Dell were lost to graduation. Taking over the point guard position will be freshman Alex Smith, a former four-year varsity member of the Peddie School basketball team. The Delran, N.J. native comes to Holy Cross after playing for a team that won 14-consecutive New Jersey state titles and 12 straight Mid-Atlantic Prep League titles. She was named team captain as a senior and was a second team All-Prep selection that year as well. "Alex is a very heady player and a smart player and is definitely someone who we feel can step to the challenge of being a freshman point guard," commented Gibbons.
Fellow freshman Brisje Malone will start as the shooting guard while Kelly Hamner will come off the bench to play the two or three spot. "All three of these players are very talented freshman who I think can all contribute in the backcourt early," stated Gibbons.
Malone is a 5-9 guard who played high school basketball for Springfield Central in Springfield, Mass. Hamner, coming to Worcester from Manassas, Va., played four years of varsity basketball at Osbourn Park High School where she captained her squad as a junior and senior. She also earned Washington Post All-Area honors and was a two-time first team All-District selection.
May will be the veteran in the backcourt group, as she returns as the team's best defensive player. As a junior, she averaged 22.1 minutes, 3.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. Her 4.1 rebound average was second highest on the team. "Alyssa does all of our grunt work and is definitely in the backcourt group playing the three position," Gibbons said.
Ward is also listed among the veterans in the backcourt, as she moves from the point guard position to the shooting guard in her junior season. Ward saw action in all 31 games last season, averaging 26.8 minutes, 5.3 points and 1.8 rebounds per game. She ranked second on the team and ninth in the Patriot League with 72 assists, averaging 2.3 assists per game. "Meredith will be our catalyst sixth-man coming off the bench," commented Gibbons. "As a true team player and another captain leader, Meredith has been nothing but gracious in accepting the role as our game-changing player off the bench."
The tradition of playing tough opponents and facing big challenges does not escape the 2010-2011 schedule. Headlining the non-conference slate once again will be a Nov. 14 match with the undefeated and reigning national champions, No. 1-ranked Connecticut. The Crusaders travel to Storrs, Conn. to play the Huskies in their opening game of the season.
Holy Cross will also travel to play Quinnipiac, Fordham, Bryant, Northeastern, Dartmouth and Massachusetts while also playing in the Marriott Cavalier Classic hosted by Virginia from Dec. 28-29, which features East Tennessee State and North Carolina A&T along with Virginia and Holy Cross. The team plays host to Yale in its season and home opener, and then New Hampshire, Harvard, Central Connecticut, Maine and Boston College to wrap up its non-league slate.
"We've definitely challenged ourselves with some great non-conference contests against some of the best teams in New England, ranging from the Ivy League teams to our America East opponents," said Gibbons. "This is a good schedule that will help prepare us for the Patriot League, which is our ticket to the NCAA Tournament. With a young team we will be tested, and may take some lumps early, but it will only make us better in time for league competition."
The Patriot League looks to have two frontrunners coming out of the gates strong once again, as Lehigh and American both finished with 13-1 records in the league last season. Holy Cross, playing the seven in teams in home-and-home series, realizes the challenge it faces against the tops teams who return some of their top starters. The squad will face reigning Patriot League champions, Lehigh, twice while also looking to step up big against American in two games as well.
"I am extremely confident that our new style of aggressive play and full court press will allow us to standout from the other league teams, giving us an advantage when we reach the conference schedule," finished Gibbons. "We are prepared to hold serve at the Hart Center and steal a few on the road. I truly believe that any team that can go 11-3 in the league will be in a good place to take it all, and that is what we are prepared to do this season."