Nov. 19 - BETHANY, W.Va. – With all five starters and two other key contributors returning after a 15-win season last year, the Bethany women’s basketball program believes their first postseason bid since 2004 is within reach.
They begin pursuit of that goal Nov. 22 against Manchester (Ind.) College in the first round of the Wooster Tournament. The Bison open the season with six consecutive games on the road before starting their home slate Dec. 6 against Waynesburg.
In addition to the seven returners, nine freshmen were added to the program, which presents fifth-year head coach Rebecca Upton a lot more options in her line-up.
“Overall, I thought preseason went well,” said Upton, who led the Bison to a 15-11 mark last year and a third place finish in the PAC regular season standings. “We have a lot of returners, but with nine freshmen, it was challenging in a good way. They were trying to learn our system, what I expect from them and everyone was trying to learn each other. But I really think we have a nice group and we could go 12 or 13 deep this year.”
The Bison’s three-guard offense will feature a senior at the point in Caelyn DSanti (Tarentum, Pa./North Catholic). She averaged 4.2 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists while playing in all 26 games, including 25 starts. A pair of freshmen will back up DiSanti, with Annie Wilson (Saegertown, Pa./Cambridge Springs) bringing a great deal of speed to the floor, while Audra Droginske (Wheeling, W.Va./Wheeling Central) has missed all of preseason because of injury.
“Caelyn is the returning starter at point,” said Upton. “She started all of last year and a good deal of her sophomore and freshmen seasons, so she’s nice and experienced and we are going to rely on that a lot this year. Annie is a smart freshman we are extremely excited about. She’s fast, intense and fits in with what we do. We haven’t seen Audra play yet because she’s been hurt, so she’s an unknown right now.”
Bethany is loaded at experience at one wing guard spot, with a pair of all-conference performers back. Senior Kaitlyn McCormick (Wheeling, W.Va./Wheeling Park) was an Honorable Mention All-PAC selection last year after posting 8.3 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game. A Second Team All-PAC choice a year ago was sophomore Kelly Goode (Pleasant Plain, Ohio/Little Miami), who led the team in scoring with 13.0 points per game and also pulled down 5.3 rebounds per contest.
Kelly’s twin sister Stacy adds even more depth after her freshman campaign included 7.4 points per game and 80 steals, the third-highest total in one year by a Bison. Adding even more depth is freshman Kayla Hanuschak (Canfield, Ohio/Austintown Fitch), who gives BC dependable shooter.
“Kaitlyn is the life of this team and has been for more than two years,” said Upton. “She provides a spark on both ends of the floor. The twins are looking to balance their games out more this season. Kelly was our leading scorer last year and we’ll look to her to stay in that scoring role, but she has worked to step up her defense. On the other hand, Stacy nearly set the school-record for steals last year, but we’re looking for more offensively. Both came back in great shape and are true gym rats, coming in every day to work on their games.
"And Kayla is a freshman who is a pure shooter," said Upton. "She can just knock down shots, which gives us an extra dimension we haven't had in my time."
At the big guard spot, Upton will look to the tandem of sophomore Tara Harris (Zanesville, Ohio) and freshman Renee Shepherd (New Martinsville, W.Va./Magnolia). Harris averaged 8.2 points, a team-high 6.1 rebounds and shot 88 percent (37-42) from the foul line, while Shepherd has shown a lot of promise in the early going.
“Tara came back in better shape this year, which will allow her to be on the floor and produce more,” said Upton. “She is one of our top basketball knowledge players, as she moves well without the ball, makes good reads on both ends of the floor and has good hands defensively. Renee has a lot of potential. She’s a very smart player and at 5-9, is a little bigger than Tara and can guard in the post. Offensively, she’s a good shooter, but can also attack the basket.”
Two other freshmen are in the mix for playing time in the backcourt, including Tiffany Simpson (Blacksville, W.Va./Clay-Battelle) and Morgan Musson (Brook Park, Ohio/Midpark).
Bethany’s depth in the post will include a pair of seniors and a pair of freshmen. The veterans are Susannah Cartland (Harvard, Ill.), who transferred to BC prior to last year and picked up earning Honorable Mention All-PAC honors after recording 8.3 points and 4.8 rebounds, and Renee Brandenburg (Avella, Pa.), who averaged 7.3 points and 4.1 boards a game and led the squad with 21 blocked shots.
The newcomers included Tamara Blankenship (Clarksburg, Pa./Saltsburg) and Katelynn Hackathorn (Valley Grove, W.Va./Wheeling Park), who both stand 6-0, but also have solid perimeter skills.
“Susannah and Renee both came back better skill-wise this season,” said Upton. “Renee is more of a back-to-the-basket player, but is more finesse in the lane. Susannah prefers to face the basket and is much more comfortable in our system this year.
“Tamara is a post with guard skills,” said Upton. “She can attack and shoot threes on the offensive end but can also play with her back to the basket. Defensively, she can guard more agile players or go down low. Katelynn is a strong player down low with a soft touch around the basket, but also has three-point range. She is also left-handed, which gives us an interesting dimension.”
Also looking for time in the frontcourt is freshman Siobhan McDonagh (Hull, Mass.).
With so much experience back to mix with the talented newcomers after their best season since 2004, the Bison are setting pretty lofty goals this year, although the key to achieving them will be getting off to a good start.
“Our minimum goal is to earn an ECAC Tournament bid,” said Upton. “We missed it by one game last year. Because of that, we know that to reach postseason, it starts tip-off weekend. In the past, we’ve been so focused on getting ready for the conference schedule. Now we are looking at the opening games as though they are just as important if we want to go to the ECACs or NCAAs. We don’t want to wait until the PAC Tournament to try to secure a playoff bid. We want to get there by winning games all year long.”