Nov. 11 - BETHANY, W.Va. – With only two of their top eight scorers back from last year’s 15-12 team, the Bethany women’s basketball team will have a very different look when they begin the 2009-10 season Nov. 16 at Carnegie Mellon.
The Bison recovered from a slow start last winter to record their second consecutive 15-win season and reach the PAC Tournament semifinals for the second time in three years. However, that squad featured four seniors who graduated, leaving seventh-year head coach Rebecca Upton with an inexperienced group that has only one player with more than one season of college basketball under their belt.
“The whole season is going to be about growth and learning,” said Upton, who has 57 wins and led the Bison to a top-four finish every year in her tenure. “We essentially have a whole new team, so we will be asking role players from last year to take on bigger roles and freshmen to play big minutes. With so much youth and inexperience, we are going to have to grow up faster than most teams.”
Bethany will be leaning heavily on their top three players back from a season ago in junior Tara Harris (Zanesville, Ohio) and sophomores Anne Wilson (Saegertown, Pa./Cambridge Springs) and Renee Shepherd (New Martinsville, W.Va./Magnolia), but Upton says the team’s success will hinge on everyone on the roster contributing every night.
“We are asking Anne, Renee and Tara to all fill much bigger roles this season,” said Upton. “Not just in scoring, but also on the defensive end and as leaders. Those three will have to drive us, but everyone on the team is going to have to do their part and be productive.”
Wilson steps into the starting point guard role after playing in all 27 games last year and is the top returning scorer after posting 8.0 points per game. She also averaged 2.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists and nearly two steals per contest. Backing her up while also possibly supplying time on the wing is sophomore Audra Droginske (Wheeling, W.Va./Wheeling Central), who played in 16 games as a freshman.
“Anne is moving into a bigger role as a scorer and has to be a leader as a captain this year, which she is,” said Upton. “She is super tough, smart and fiery who wants to will the team to victory by doing anything she has to do to make us better. Audra played role minutes last year but will see increased work this season because she’s smart, a great passer and a knock-down shooter.”
The young Bison roster does provide Upton with a great deal of versatility, as seven players could see time anywhere except the point and in the post. Harris, who averaged 6.3 points and a team-best 5.9 rebounds per game despite missing five games, is battling through injuries again in the preseason, while Shepherd started 14 of the 24 games she played in last year before missing the final three because of injury. She provided 4.2 points and 4.5 boards per contest as a freshman.
“Renee finds ways to be productive,” said Upton. “She works so hard every day, can defend inside or outside, rebounds well and can knock down the outside shot. Once we get Tara back from injury, she provides us with a banger inside. She is crafty around the basket, chooses her spots well to step outside and shoot the three and is surprisingly quick on defense.”
Two other sophomores in Kayla Hanuschak (Canfield, Ohio/Austintown Fitch) and Tiffany Simpson (Blacksville, W.Va./Clay-Battelle) also return after seeing spot time last season.
“Kayla hasn’t really been healthy since she came here and is battling injuries again, so she’s a question mark,” said Upton. “Tiffany is a great kid who works hard in practice and is a team player.”
A trio of freshmen will be looked upon to contribute right away for the Green and White on the wings, including Carly Garneau (Beaver Creek, Ohio/Carroll), Liz Holzheimer (Mentor, Ohio) and Kayla Taormina (Center Twp., Pa./Quigley), who all have different skill sets to bring on the floor.
“We are going to ask all three freshmen to play multiple positions,” said Upton. “Kayla is a very aggressive offensive player who wants to score and is another one who will do anything to help the team win. Carly was underutilized in high school who we hope comes into her own here. She’s a 5-10 guard with good agility and has the length to be a good slasher to the rim or shows the range to knock down the perimeter shot. Liz is a hard-nosed gamer who is a great rebounder and contributes in whatever way she can.”
In the post, Upton is hoping the Bison’s potential overcomes their inexperience. Sophomore Katelynn Hackathorn (Valley Grove, W.Va./Wheeling Park), who averaged 1.9 points and 1.2 rebounds in 17 games last season, and freshman Taylor Kress (Sharpsville, Pa.) will be expected to carry the load in the paint.
“We are looking for Katelynn to step up her role,” said Upton. “She came off the bench last year behind two senior posts, but we look for her to be a go-to scorer down low. She has great hands, a soft touch around the basket and three-point range. Taylor should be more of a project, but we’ll going to need minutes from her this year. She is getting better every day, is physical but also has an outside shot.”
With such a young cast of players in their first season together, Upton’s goals and expectations are not centered on a certain number of wins. Her focus is on getting the Bison to improve every day and be playing their best basketball at the end of the season.
“This is an exciting year to be a part of our program,” said Upton. “There is a chance to gain experience and lots of minutes are out there for the taking. As a team, we want to grow and get better every single day. I can’t say what our goals are except to be better today than we were yesterday.”