Tuesday, December 1, 2009

PAC women's basketball preview

Three-time defending champion Thomas More and Washington & Jefferson have dominated Presidents' Athletic Conference women's basketball in recent seasons. They've combined to win the last four PAC titles. In the preseason poll of coaches, sports information directors and media members, W&J was picked to win the title this year with Thomas More the No. 2 selection. Early results show the picks seem to be on the mark as W&J and Thomas More are the only undefeated teams in the PAC.

Conference plays begins tonight. Geneva is at W&J in a game that does not count in the standings because of Geneva's provisional status in NCAA Division III. Waynesburg begins its PAC schedule at Chatham.

The following is a preview of each team, in predicted order of finish in the preseason poll:

1. Washington & Jefferson
Coach: Jina DeRubbo (6th at W&J - 245-90 career)
Current record: 4-0. Ranked No. 19 in NCAA Division III
Last year: 24-5
Outlook: The Presidents posted a school-record 24 wins last season and advanced to the NCAA Division III tournament before losing to powerful Hope in the first round. W&J returns three senior starters in guards Kennan Killeen, Stephanie Smith and Maggie Gibson, pictured, the latter a two-time first-team all-PAC selection. Freshman guard Alyssa Oursler (12.0 ppg, 93 percent FT) has been a big addition so far. Opponents are shooting only 33 percent against the Presidents.
Quotable: "We have a lot of experience. Maggie is a great defender and one of the best rebounders int he country. Kennan is an outstanding point guard and Stephanie’s ability to hit open shots from the outside make Kennan and Maggie that much better," DeRubbo says.

2. Thomas More
Coach: Brian Neal (6th year - 119-26 career)
Current record: 4-0. Ranked No. 13.
Last year: 28-3
Outlook: The Saints will be hard-pressed to match last year's record, which included PAC regular-season and tournament championships and a trip to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. Gone are four starters from that team, but the cupboard is hardly bare. Nine letterwinners return including center Nicole Dickman, a first-team all-conference pick. Freshmen Chelsea Tolliver (12.3 ppg) and Allison Long (11.8 ppg) have helped pick up some of the scoring burden. Still a work in progress but definitely is capable of winning a fourth consecutive PAC title.
Quoteable: "Roster turnover is what makes college sports special -- you have to keep proving yourself and overcoming turnover. Obviously, we're short on experience, we're smaller and we don't have any Division I transfers. ... We want to win the PAC, advance to the national tournament and win a national title. But, our focus is currently on working hard and improving. If we do those things, the wins and the hardware will take care of themselves," Neal says.

3. Grove City
Head coach: Sarah Harris (4th year - 28-55 career)
Current record: 1-3
Last year: 11-15
Outlook: The big change with the Wolverines is the roster has nearly doubled in size. Grove City had only eight healthy bodies last year but managed to win 11 games despite having little depth. Seven players and 80 percent of the scoring is back from last season but the Wolverines will be undersized despite the addition of 5-11 Alison Wells, a transfer from Middlebury. Christine Slater, who led GC in scoring and rebounding last season, is back and averaging nearly a double-double. The Wolverines, however, have made only six of 44 three-pointers so far yet are coming off an 18-point win over previously undefeated Carnegie Mellon.
Quoteable: "We're learning how to deal with high expectations. The players are coming back with goals and that has upped the ante," Harris says.

4. Westminster
Head coach: Rosanne Scott (8th year - 102-94 career)
Last year: 8-17
Current record: 1-4
Outlook: The Titans had a fall of unexpected proportions last season under Scott, an under-rated head coach. Westminster expects to be back near the top of the PAC this year but so far the results haven't been encouraging. The Titans have lost three games by five points or less and suffered a 30-point loss to Capital, a team W&J defeated by eight. As expected, Amy Dolsak (16.0 ppg) has been the focal point of the offense but the Titans need another reliable scorer. The biggest problem has been ballhandling as the Titans have committed a whopping 135 turnovers with only 45 assists.
Quoteable: "Last year's record changed the attitude and work ethic of our players. They're determined to change things around," Scott says.

5. Bethany
Head coach: Rebecca Upton (6th year - 58-77 career)
Last year: 15-12
Current record: 1-3
Outlook: Bethany is young -- very young. There are no seniors and only one junior on the roster. The Bison have only two of their top eight scorers returning. Scoring, however, hasn't been much of a problem so far as Bethany is averaging 66 points per game. Statistically, Bethany has played better than its 1-3 record indicates. The one trouble spot, as you might expect with a team in transition, is too many turnovers. The Bison are minus-17 in turnover ratio. Sophomore Katelynn Hackathorn (11.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg) appears to be one of the most improved players in the conference and freshman guard Kayla Taormina (10.3 ppg), from Quigley High School, has been a pleasant surprise.
Quoteable: "We'll be a different team from last year. ... The whole season is going to be about growth and learning." Upton says.

6. Waynesburg
Head coach: Sam Jones (2nd year - 9-20 career)
Last year: 8-18
Current record: 1-2
Outlook: Jones, in his first season, did one of the best coaching jobs in the league, winning eight games with a team that won only one game in 2007-08 season. There are only two seniors on the roster. Jones brought in 10 newcomers and that might be a good thing. Elisha Jones (13.0 ppg) led Waynesburg in scoring last season and is off a good start. Point guard Hannah Hunter is shooting 88 percent from the free-throw line. This is a mystery team. It's only win has come over a terrible Penn State-Greater Allegheny team but the Yellow Jackets had an 11-point halftime lead at Adrian before losing.
Quoteable: "I'm excited about the depth our 10 newcomers gives us. There are no guarantees. We're working hard to get better and we're going to come out fighting. I hope we one at home this year after going 0-7 last year," Jones says.

7. Chatham
Head coach:
Mark Katarski (5th year - 37-72 career)
Last year: 11-15
Current record: 3-2
Outlook: The Cougars have increased their win total in every season under Katarski and are off to a good start, having won their own tip-off tournament. With the exception of W&J and Thomas More, this is the most experienced team in the conference. Four starters return and three players who took medical redshirts last season are back. The Cougars have four players averaging in double figures, led by Courtney Smith (12.0 ppg). Kayla Hilko is averaging 17 points over her last two games. The big problem for Chatham is it has attempted 39 fewer free throws than its opponents through five games.

8. Thiel
Head coach:
Angie Zeuch (1st year)
Last year: 11-15
Current record: 2-3
Outlook: You might expect that with a new coach in and high-scoring Amber Bodrick graduated, this might be a trying season for the Tomcats. However, they've already won two games and Kelly Barzak (13.0 ppg) has shown an ability to score. The Tomcats won't shoot nearly as many three-pointers (21 in five games) as when Bodrick was around, but they've shown an ability to get to the free-throw line.
Quoteable: "We're young, for sure, with only one senior. ... Having graduated some key players from last year’s team, fans and opponents will see a new look. With commitment, hard work, and team pride, we'll be ready to build a successful and exciting season," Zeuch says.

The others
Geneva and Saint Vincent will play a full PAC schedules but the results will not count in the standings as each team is not yet eligible for the league title. Geneva (currently 2-3) returns four starters from last year's 9-15 team but gone is coach Ron Galbreath, who retired in the offseason. Saint Vincent (3-1) is young but talented. The Bearcats scored 114 points in their season opener.

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