Women's Basketball Hosts Bryant For "Get Fit With The Crusaders Day"

Ashley Cooper

Click here for the full Bryant game notes

The Teams: Holy Cross (5-5, 0-0 PL) vs. Bryant (6-3, 0-1 NEC)
Date: December 21, 2011
Time: 11:45 a.m.
Place: Hart Center (3,600), Worcester, Mass.
Holy Cross Radio: Bob Fouracre, play-by-play; Click Here to Listen
Unofficial Live Statistics: Click Here
Series Record: Holy Cross leads, 4-1
Last Meeting: Bryant 59, Holy Cross 47; Dec. 19, 2010; Smithfield, R.I.

GETTING FIT WITH THE CRUSADERS: Wednesday's game versus Bryant will be the Holy Cross women's basketball team's first-ever "Get Fit with the Crusaders Day." Nine Worcester Public Schools and over 1,000 students will participate in the event, which will focus on health, nutrition and physical fitness. The program will start with opening remarks from head coach Bill Gibbons, WPS superintendent Dr. Melinda Boone and Worcester mayor Joseph C. O'Brien, followed by a presentation from the Holy Cross strength and conditioning and athletic training staffs. Holy Cross student-athletes will be on-hand to discuss how they instill physical fitness and health in college. After the presentation, the students will watch the Crusaders play against the Bryant Bulldogs.

IN THE HOLIDAY SPIRIT: Keeping in the holiday spirit, the Crusaders will also be accepting canned food items as part of a holiday canned food drive. All participants donating items will receive tickets at a discounted price of three dollars. The collected items will be given to the Catholic Charities of Worcester.

THE SERIES WITH BRYANT: Bryant reentered the Holy Cross women's basketball schedule after becoming a Division I institution in the 2008-2009 season. Wednesday's match-up will be sixth meeting all-time between the two squads, with the Crusaders coming away victorious in four of the previous five contests. Holy Cross has played the Bulldogs in its last three seasons, defeating them 73-54 on Jan. 7, 2009 and again in 2010, notching a 57-45 victory on the road. The Bulldogs earned their first win over Holy Cross last season, winning out 59-47 on Dec. 19. Holy Cross head coach Bill Gibbons and Bryant head coach Mary Burke met in competition for the third time last year in their combined 46 years of coaching, with Burke collecting her first-ever win over the Crusaders. The teams first played each other as Division II institutions dating back to the 1976-1977 season. Under the guidance of head coach Pat Corcoran, the Crusaders topped the Bulldogs 72-26, the largest margin of victory for Holy Cross. The teams then matched up again in 1981, with Holy Cross earning a 94-64 win. Holy Cross is an unblemished 2-0 when playing Bryant at the Hart Center.

PLAYING THE BULLDOGS: The Crusaders will be playing their final opponent with the Bulldogs mascot on Wednesday. Holy Cross already competed against the Yale Bulldogs in the first game of the season. The nickname Bulldogs is used by a total of 38 collegiate institutions, including Yale and Bryant. Throughout program history, the Crusaders have played against three of those institutions: Bryant, Louisiana Tech and Yale. After losing to Yale, Holy Cross has combined for a record of 10-10 all-time versus Bulldogs opponents.

HOLY CROSS AGAINST THE NORTHEAST CONFERENCE: In program history, Holy Cross has played against seven of the 12 teams that make up the Northeast conference. This season, Holy Cross is 1-1 against the NEC, topping Quinnipiac and losing to Central Connecticut. The Crusaders have played in a total of 28 games against Northeast foes, winning 20 in all (71.4 percent). Holy Cross boasts a winning percentage in series against Bryant (4-1), Central Connecticut (8-3), Long Island (3-1), Mount St. Mary's (2-0), Quinnipiac (4-2), Sacred Heart (1-0) and Wagner (2-1). They do not post a losing record against any NEC member. The squad has not played against Fairleigh Dickinson, Monmouth, Robert Morris and St. Francis (N.Y. and Pa.).

WARD LEADS SQUAD: The lone senior on the roster, Meredith Ward (Westerly, R.I.), was named captain for the 2011-2012 season. Ward was also named a tri-captain for the 2010-2011 season. She is the veteran leader in the backcourt and has started at guard in all 10 games this season, averaging 33 minutes, 8.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. Her average minutes and points rank amongst the Patriot League best, as she ranks fifth in minutes and 18th in points. Ward has notched three double-digit scoring outings thus far, highlighted by her first career double-double against UMass on Nov. 22. She scored 14 points and tallied a career-best 12 rebounds, almost doubling her previous high of seven rebounds. Her other double-figure games include Quinnipiac (15 points) and Fordham (12) as she also notched a season-high six assists, tying the team-high against Boston College the last time out. Ward is also emerging as a big presence on the boards for the team, as she ranks third on the squad in that category. On the season, Ward has collected 15 offensive and 30 defensive rebounds. As a junior, Ward registered a Holy Cross single-game record when she went 12-for-12 from the free throw line against Quinnipiac and finished the season as the team's top free throw performer, making 84 percent of her attempts. In her career, she has scored 449 points, recorded 210 rebounds and 191 assists.

MEREDITH MATCH-UP: Wednesday's match-up will feature two starting guards with the first name Meredith. Senior Meredith Ward of Holy Cross and Meredith Soper of Bryant will face each other for the second straight season. Ward has not faced another guard that shares her name this season and will only have the chance to meet another Meredith when she plays against freshman forward Meredith Mesaris of American. Ward and Soper's averages are similar with Ward averaging 8.7 points and Soper averaging 8.8. Soper currently leads the rebounding battle between the two, posting nine rebounds to Ward's 4.5 rebounds per game. 

SMOOTH SMITH: Sophomore guard Alex Smith (Delran, N.J.) was chosen to the preseason All-League Team after being named to the Patriot League All-Rookie Team last season. Her accolades continue to stack up as she was named the Patriot League Player of the Week for the first time in her career on Dec. 12. Her numbers keep on improving as she has led the team in scoring in four of the last five games, highlighted by a 22-point outburst at Harvard. She has also hit her season-high of five three-point shots made in a game twice, coming in the last two outings against Northeastern and Boston College. Smith also topped out in the assists category against Harvard, collecting 11 to notch a career-high and record her first-ever double-double. She is the only Patriot League player to record a points and assist double-double on the season. Her other double-figure outings include 17 points at Boston College, 20 points versus Northeastern, 15 points at Central Connecticut, 14 points versus UMass, 14 points versus Quinnipiac and 11 points at Yale. She is currently the team's top point performer and ranks second in the Patriot League in scoring average, putting up 13.5 points per game. She also adds a team-high 5.5 assists per game as she has led the team in that category in a total of eight contests. She has 55 on the season. She has hit multiple three-pointers in seven contests and averages 2.5 three-pointers per game, leading the league. She now has 29 career games where she's made at least two three-pointers. She also leads the team in minutes played per game (36.2). As a freshman, Smith ranked second on the team in scoring, averaging 11.1 point per game. She also ranked first on the team in minutes played per game (32.0) and assists (98). She finished the season with 82 three-pointers made, ranking second-highest in the Holy Cross single-season records. She has made 26 three-pointers this season.

LEAPS FOR LEPLEY: Junior forward Amy Lepley (Norfolk, Mass.) returns for her third-straight season as one of the team's starting forwards. She is at full strength as she currently ranks second on the team and fifth in the Patriot League in scoring average, putting up 12.1 points per game. Lepley's numbers continue to impress as she has notched six double-figure outings in the last eight games, highlighted by a season-high 20-point outburst in the win over New Hampshire on Dec. 3. She has also notched double-figures against Boston College (11), UMass (15), Harvard (15), Fordham (14), Quinnipiac (13) and Yale (12). Lepley ranks second on the team and 18th in the league in rebounding as well, averaging 4.9 rebounds per game. Her season-high number of rebounds is seven, which she recorded twice (vs. UMass and Northeastern). She has made 48.5 percent of her field goal attempts (49 of 101), ranking first on the team and third amongst Patriot League players. Originally playing as a guard in high school, the converted forward led the team in rebounding (5.6 per game) and blocks (13) in 2010-2011. In her career she has scored 617 points, recorded 342 rebounds and 129 assists.

PICK-ME-UP PARKER: Freshman forward Emily Parker (Johnston, Iowa) got her Holy Cross career off to a great start, posting a double-double in her first game in a Crusaders uniform. Her 17-point, 10-rebound performance at Yale marked the first time in 15 years of Holy Cross basketball that a freshman posted such high numbers in her first-ever performance. The feat landed her Patriot League Rookie of the Week honors on Nov. 15. She followed a break in action with a 20-point, eight rebound performance in the 80-70 win over Quinnipiac, leading the team in points and tying the team-high in rebounds. She has two double-figure outings in the last three games, notching 10 points at UNH and following with 13 against Northeastern. Parker hit the go-ahead jumper against the Huskies, finalizing the squad's last minute victory. She has taken over as the team's top rebounder as she tied her season-high with 10 rebounds against BC. She now averages 5.3 boards per game and leads the team with seven blocked shots. Her 5.3 rebounds rank 13th amongst Patriot League players as well. On the season, Parker maintains a double-figure scoring average (10.1), which ranks 11th amongst league players.

COMEBACK MALONE: Sophomore guard Brisje Malone (Springfield, Mass.), who did not start the two exhibition games for Holy Cross this fall, has come back to earn the third starting guard spot in all 10 games this season. Malone is producing some of the team's top offense as she has now tallied six straight double-digit scoring affairs, seven in all. She hit a season-high 15 points against New Hampshire on Dec. 13 and is averaging 11.5 points per game over the last five games. She also scored double-figures against Boston College (10), Northeastern (11), UMass (10), Harvard (13), Central Connecticut (11) and Yale (13). Malone hits her stride in the clutch, notching 44 second half points over the last six games. Through all 10 games, Malone has scored 64 of her 101 total points in the second half of games (63 percent). Malone is the fourth player on the team to average in double-figures as she averages 10.1 points per game, ranking 12th amongst league players. She also provides 4.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.6 steals per game. Her assists rank seventh in the league while her steals are fourth, right behind Alex Smith. As a freshman, she averaged 26.1 minutes and 7.1 points per game, while adding 29 steals.

TOP SCORERS: The Holy Cross women's basketball squad currently leads the league with an average of 62.3 points per game. The offense is averaging 3.8 more points that the next highest conference opponent, Army, who averaged 58.5 points per game. The squad's 80 point production against Quinnipiac is a league team-high. The Crusaders are also hitting 40 percent of their shots from the floor, tying the league-high with Navy.

HELPING HANDS: For the second season in a row, the Holy Cross women's basketball team is leading the Patriot League in assists. The squad has combined for 163 assists on the season, an average of 16.3 assists per game. Navy ranks second in the league with 13.2 assists per game, a difference of 3.1 assists. Sophomore Alex Smith is once again the team's leader in the assists category, as she averages 5.5 assists per game, also leading the Patriot League.

STARTERS SHINE: The starting five for Holy Cross this season have earned their roles for a reason. Through the 10 games, Crusader starters have posted 527 of the team's 623 points (84.6 percent). They have combined for 1,538 of the 2,000 minutes played and are shooting a combined 41.9 percent from the floor (189 of 451). They have also sported 221 rebounds, 142 assists and 55 steals. Against Fordham, the team's starters scored 37 of the team's 43 points. In the game against Harvard, the starters boasted 71 of 73 points. Forty-five of the team's 53 points were scored by the starting five at CCSU and 59 of the team's 61 points versus UNH were put up by starters as well. Four of the five regular starters are averaging in double-figures (Amy Lepley, Emily Parker, Alex Smith and Brisje Malone), the most of any team in the Patriot League.

DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS: Another goal of the 2011-2012 season is to step up on all aspects of the defense. One of the main ways the team will accomplish that goal is to win the rebounding battle. The team has outrebounded a total of six opponents thus far (Yale, Fordham, UMass, UNH, Northeastern, Boston College) and is now 3-3 in games when they outrebound their opponent. In all, the squad has earned two more rebounds than their opponents, collecting a 368-366 edge. The Crusaders have also stepped up their defense on another level, obtaining more blocks than opponents in three of the 10 games (4-1 versus Quinnipiac, 3-1 at Harvard, 3-2 at UNH). Last season, the team was outrebounded by a margin of 1,186-1,023, a 123 rebound difference and finished last in the Patriot League in blocks. The last Holy Cross team to outrebound all of its opponents during a season was in 2002-2003. That season, the squad put up 1,216 rebounds compared to 1,124 rebounds by their opponents. The team finished with a 24-8 overall record and won the 2003 Patriot League Championship.

CRUSADERS PICKED FIFTH IN PRESEASON POLL: Holy Cross was picked to finish fifth for the second straight season in the 2011-2012 Patriot League preseason poll, receiving 52 votes. American was chosen to finish first, receiving 11 first-place votes as senior Lisa Strack was voted preseason All-Patriot League. The Eagles earned a league-high 94 points and was followed by Lehigh, who received three first place votes and 83 points. Reigning Patriot League champion Navy was picked third with 74 points and two first place votes, while Bucknell (58 points) and Holy Cross (52) were selected fourth and fifth respectively. Lafayette, Army and Colgate followed in order, earning 38, 26 and 23 points respectively.

HOLY CROSS AMONGST THE NATION'S BEST: Holy Cross has gained recognition with many of the nation's top teams and players after the fourth round of the NCAA Division I rankings was released on Dec. 18. Currently, the Crusaders rank 33rd in assists per game (16.3), 30th in assist/turnover ratio (0.99) and 172nd in scoring offense (62.8). Alex Smith ranks within the top-50 in the nation with her 5.5 assists per game (21st). Her 11 assists versus Harvard rank 15th in individual game-highs. Smith also ranks in the top-50 with her 2.6 three-pointers made per game, currently ranking 40th. Her assist/turnover ratio (1.6) ranks 90th.

WELCOME TO WORCESTER: There will be one new face handling front office duties for the 2011-2012 Crusader basketball squad, assistant coach Sahar Nusseibeh. Nusseibeh was a former player for American, a Patriot League opponent, and was part of two squads that won the conference's regular season championship. Nusseibeh joins the Crusaders' hoops staff after spending the last two years as a graduate assistant at Cincinnati. While there, she provided on-road recruiting, video coordinating, served as the team's post coach and was the academic liaison between the players, academics department and coaches.

BOWL FOR BONDS: Assistant coach Chante Bonds knows what it's like to be a champion. This past summer, Bonds was a major part of the Boston Militia, a team in the Women's Football Alliance. Her squad went 7-1 during the regular season and finished with a 3-0 record in the national conference playoffs, earning them a spot in the world championship. Facing the San Diego Surge, Bonds' Militia won the game 35-19 and was crowned the 2011 Women's Football Alliance National Champions. Bonds, who was in her third year in the women's league, earned second team All-America honors as a wide receiver. Playing as a cornerback in the championship game, Bonds stopped a San Diego drive with an interception and an 11-yard return. Bonds, born and raised in Brockton, Mass., played Division II basketball at Bentley. A combo guard, Bonds' favorite tasks on the basketball court were diving for loose balls and setting screens for post players. On the football field, she caught on to contact and tackling quickly.

SUMMER SHAPE-UP: The Crusaders went through a tough and rigorous summer off season, working with assistant coach Chante Bonds and strength and conditioning coach Brittany Keil. In addition to the normal training regimen of strength, power, core stability and knee injury prevention, Keil and Bonds implemented a conditioning sprint test. The sprint test simulated game-like conditions, and when they ran it together as a team, they competed to see who can stay on top of the 'speed ladder'; slowest person is last in line, fastest person is at the top, and they fight to move up or keep their position on every sprint rep. Both Bonds and Keil felt that this new training segment changed the squad's mentality of being on the team and kept them training with consistency and intensity throughout the summer.

PATRIOT LEAGUE DOMINANCE: Despite its preseason ranking, the Holy Cross women's basketball team has its eyes set back on the top spot amongst the Patriot League's eight teams. Since its inaugural season back in 1991, the team has posted 243 league victories and just 71 losses. It has made 20 appearances in the Patriot League Tournament, boasting 11 championships and a 38-10 all-time record. The team was seeded sixth in the tournament last season, a program low and lost to American in the quarterfinals. The Crusaders are most successful against Colgate as they have mounted a 43-3 all-time record against the Raiders. The team also boasts a 45-8 record against Lafayette. Army and American have given Holy Cross the most trouble, as the two have combined for 28 of the 71 wins against the Crusaders. Lehigh has put up 13 wins against Holy Cross as well.

RETURNING TO GLORY: The 2011-2012 season is the second instance under Gibbons' tutelage that no player on the roster has not participated in the NCAA Tournament. The last time a Holy Cross team made the NCAA Tournament was the 2006-2007 season. Holy Cross has played in the Big Dance 12 times, posting a 1-12 all-time record. It received a team-best seventh seeding in 1985 and played as the 16th seed in its last appearance, 2007. The Crusaders have also participated in the WNIT, playing in the 2002 season. 

HEAD COACH BILL GIBBONS:27th Season: Holy Cross head coach Bill Gibbons began the season with 496 career wins and now boasts a career record of 501-291 as head coach (63.3 winning percentage), including a 5-5 record at the helm this season. He became the 24th active Division I coach to have 500 career wins on Dec. 3 at New Hampshire. He is in his 27th season at the helm of the Holy Cross women's basketball program and 31st as a member of the Holy Cross basketball family in 2011-2012. He has led the Crusaders to nine Patriot League Championships in the last 16 years. He has also made 12 postseason appearances (11 NCAA Tournaments and one WNIT) in his 26 years as head coach. He holds sixteen 20-win seasons under his belt and is the sixth coach of the women's program at Holy Cross, enjoying the longest tenure in the position. He has led the Holy Cross women's basketball program to more victories than any other coach, and is the winningest coach in Holy Cross basketball history. With his 358th victory, he surpassed George Blaney (357 wins as head coach of the Holy Cross men's basketball program), who had hired him to be his assistant coach in 1981. Now with 500 wins, Gibbons is the second-winningest coach in Holy Cross Athletics history, behind legendary baseball coach Jack Barry, who totaled 616 wins from 1921-1960.

NEXT UP FOR THE CRUSADERS: Holy Cross will enjoy the holidays and return to action on Dec. 28-29 at the Miami Holiday Classic. The team travels to Miami, Fla., for the two-day tournament which features the host Miami, Morgan State and Virginia Commonwealth. The Crusaders open the tournament with a 7:00 p.m. match-up with the Hurricanes on Dec. 28.  

Record: 6-3 Affiliation: NEC
HEAD COACH: Mary Burke, the 2007 and 2008 Rhode Island Women's Basketball Coach of the Year, enters her 21st season as head coach of the Bryant women's basketball team. She has combined for a record of 286-290 at the helm of the program, including the team's 6-3 mark this season. Burke has been a mainstay in Rhode Island basketball throughout her playing and coaching years. Under Burke's tutelage, the Bulldogs have made it to the NCAA Tournament seven times, including back-to-back appearances in 2004 and 2005, as well as their final appearance in the Division II tournament in 2008.

2011-2012 SQUAD: The Bryant women's basketball team stands at 6-3 on the season. The squad has wins against Patriot League opponents Colgate and Lafayette along with four other victories against Maine, Brown, Rhode Island and Dartmouth. Boston College, Quinnipiac and Iona handed the team its three losses. Junior guard Katie Whittington leads the team's offense with 11.9 points per game. Sophomore forward Naana Ankoma-Mensa is right behind, averaging 11.8 points and a team-best 9.6 rebounds per game.