Rookie presence coupled with leadership of upperclassmen to carry McDaniel in 2009-10
WESTMINSTER, Md. - Between 2002 and 2007, there was one thing more certain than most things in life - the Green Terror women's basketball team would win 20 games.
The last two seasons, McDaniel has failed to reach that plateau with 13 and 15 wins, respectively. However, head coach Becky Martin, now in her 29th season, enters this season with a bit more optimism than the last two and knows this is the year that her Green Terror squad could make its first Centennial Conference (CC) title game appearance since winning its third title in 2005.
A five-member rookie class coupled with a strong core of returning upperclassmen could provide the formula Martin has been looking for to get back to her signature style.
With the likes of Ali Moreland (Davidsonville, Md./South River), Sally Grace (Catonsville, Md./Mount de Sales Academy), Ashley Lyles (Laurel, Md./St. Vincent Pallotti) and Catherine Mills (Ijamsville, Md./Urbana) leading the way, that quartet of seniors could go out on top as the ones to lead McDaniel back to the top.
"Historically, our team chemistry has always been one of our strong points," Martin said. "I think we've accomplished that early on once again. There's no doubt these seniors want to win and they will welcome anyone into the program who is going to help them do that. They are doing whatever it takes on and off the court to make that happen."
It won't just be the chemistry that Martin is looking to guide her team in 2009-10, it will also be a core that will allow the team to return to its up-tempo, pressure style that utilize her team's speed and athletic ability to force turnovers and turn those into fast-break opportunities.
The Green Terror will get an early test, however, facing York (Pa.) and Messiah - NCAA tournament teams a year ago - the first weekend of the season. If that test isn't enough, McDaniel opens the conference schedule at home against Muhlenberg three days later.
The Mules, last season's champions and 10th in the d3hoops.com preseason poll, are the preseason favorite to repeat, garnering all 20 possible first-place votes among the CC head coaches and sports information directors. Teams are not permitted to vote for themselves. The Green Terror is picked second with 157 points, taking the other two first-place tallies. Johns Hopkins (145), Dickinson (143) and Gettysburg (142) round out the top five.
"Each year our conference gets stronger and stronger," Martin noted. "On any given day, any team can win. None of those five playoffs are guaranteed for anyone. It's going to be a dog fight for the entire year."
Moreland, a captain as a senior, returns as the team's leading scoring threat from a season ago and will likely reprise that role this season.
As a junior, she started 26 of 27 games and averaged 13.3 points per game. She enters her senior campaign needing just 267 points to become the program's 13th 1,000-point scorer. She also led the team with 84 assists but will have a true point guard as a running mate this year, allowing her to do what she does best - focus on defense.
A pickpocket, the quick guard nabbed 72 steals last year and has 155 for her career.
"There's no doubt she once again going to be one of our key scoring options," Martin said. "She has the ability to turn a game around not only on offense but also with a big steal on defense."
In addition to leading the team in scoring, assists and steals last year, Moreland shot a team-best 41.2 percent from the floor and hit 68.8 percent from the line. She was also third on the team with 130 rebounds and blocked five shots.
The senior is likely to have a freshman in the backcourt with her when the season opens. Rookie Katelyn Fischer (Reisterstown, Md./Seton Keough) is expected to take hold of the starting job at point guard.
"It's nice to have a true point guard," Martin disclosed. "She's exciting to watch. But not only is she a great point guard, but she is also capable of shooting from anywhere and scoring."
With the speed of Moreland and Fischer in the backcourt, Martin has implemented a new offense this year that she hopes will play to the strength of her guard-heavy roster.
"There's no doubt that our early-season schedule is tough," Martin added. "We're not shying away from the heavy hitters. The only question I have is with this new offense, are we going to be ready for these teams this early? The only good thing is it's early for them as well."
Given the makeup of her team, the Green Terror could be looking at a four-guard lineup or even five guards on the floor at times, making the role the team's two biggest inside presences, Lyles and junior Whitney Snoops (Millersville, Md./Archbishop Spalding) even more important.
Lyles, who started 24 of 27 games as a junior, will be the primary threat inside once again while Snoops, who started 15 of 27 games last season, could see a role where she plays both inside and on the perimeter.
Lyles finished second on the team last year in scoring (9.3 ppg), rebounding (6.1 rpg) and steals (40). She led the squad with 51 blocked shots and added 31 assists. She shot 40.4 percent from the field and 82.2 percent from the free-throw line.
Snoops ranked third on the squad in scoring, averaging 7.3 points per game, and led the team in rebounding, averaging 6.6 caroms per game. She added 26 assists and 20 steals while shooting 75.7 percent from the stripe.
"The nice part about this offense is it will give us the flexibility of using Whitney in the paint and on the perimeter," Martin noted. "She can definitely be a force for us inside with her back to the basket but she can also step outside and hit the 3."
Grace and Mills, the other two members of the senior class, will be competing for a starting role and see significant action even if they end up having to come off the bench.
Mills, who started 22 games in her first season with the team, averaged 5.6 points per game last season. She dished out 37 assists and nabbed 24 steals.
Grace, who started nine times a year ago, ranked fourth on the team with 6.2 points per game. She led the squad with 25 3-pointers and shot a team-best 85.1 percent from the charity stripe.
McDaniel returns seven other players from last year's roster. With injuries late last year and early this season, it's possible that nearly half of those returners won't see the floor at least in the early going.
Junior Meredith Larsen (Phoenix, Md./Bryn Mawr), who saw action in all 27 games with seven starts and averaged 3.9 points per game and 2.6 rebounds per game last year, is expected to miss the season with injury.
Sophomores Meg Biggart (Darien, Conn./Darien) and Kelsey Franklin (Woodbine, Md./South Carroll) could be limited in the early going.
Biggart is coming back off an injury that forced her to miss seven of the final 10 games during her rookie season. Prior to that, she made seven starts. She finished her debut campaign with 48 points, 26 assists, 25 rebounds and 15 steals.
Franklin could be limited by a nagging injury this season. She made one start among her 25 appearances last season, scoring 34 points.
Sophomore Katherine Restrepo (Wyomissing, Pa./Wyomissing Area) looks to return to the lineup after missing the final 20 games of her rookie season with injury.
Juniors Kim Acton (Severna Park, Md./Severna Park) and Kate Zimmer (Ocean City, Md./Stephen Decatur) and sophomore Emma Adams (Oneida, N.Y./Oneida) round out the Green Terror returners.
Acton made one start among her 25 appearances, recording 37 points and 33 rebounds.
Zimmer made one start among her 16 appearances, netting 19 points.
Adams made one start among her 26 appearances as a freshman, tallied 57 points and 58 rebounds.
Four other rookies join Fischer in the mix.
Samantha Witman (New Oxford, Pa./New Oxford) adds another point guard into the mix who brings a contrasting style to that of Fischer's.
"Sam's a good ball handler who doesn't mind physical contact," Martin noted. "She's a point guard who doesn't mind getting in there and taking a charge."
Junior Cara Thompson (Hagerstown, Md./North Hagerstown) joins the squad after two years at Hagerstown Community College, bringing the presence of another seasoned player who will be a threat both inside and outside.
Rachael Rybak (Reisterstown, Md./Franklin), a freshman guard, and Amy Bare (Westminster, Md./Winters Mill), a freshman forward, will both look to add depth and will fill key roles as they transition to the college game.
McDaniel opens the season at the Messiah/Wingate Hotel Invitational against York (Pa.) on Friday. Game time is 5:30 p.m.