Excitement abounds and expectations are high for the 2010-11 Washington and Lee women's basketball season following a record-setting season for the Generals last winter.
W&L returns all five starters and nine of 11 letterwinners from last season's team that set a program-record for wins (18), captured its first-ever Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) title and appeared in the NCAA Tournament for the first time. With so much experience returning, Head Coach Mandy King has trouble containing her enthusiasm for the upcoming season.
"The 'X's and O's' have come quickly this season," remarked King. "After the success of last season, the team has set high goals, which in turn as led to a strong belief and work ethic in the gym."
A strong dedication to "team" and the team's ambitions must form a base for the program to achieve its goals. King has noted the importance for senior leadership and she will leaning heavily on senior captains Felice Herman and Allie Long to provide the guidance needed to steer the Generals back atop the ODAC.
"The success we have this season will be due to the special seniors we have," stated King. "They have been loyal, putting their teammates first, and are definitely setting an example for the rest of the team with their hard work."
Herman, a three-year letterwinner at center, appeared in all 28 games for the Generals last season. A great presence around the rim, Herman led the team and conference in shooting percentage during her junior campaign, drilling 51.4 percent (107-208) from the field. She finished second on the team in blocks (21) and rebounds (180), while averaging 8.9 points per game, good for third-best on the squad.
"I expect Felice to have a strong year," commented King. "She has the ability to change the complexion of the game and, if she stays healthy and on the court, she can be a dominant player in the ODAC while posting an all-conference season."
Long will be serving as a captain for the second-straight season from her guard position. She led the team with an average of 34.6 minutes per game, appearing in all of the Generals' 28 contests. In addition to leading the team in minutes played, she finished tops with 53 steals and second on the squad with 70 assists, while averaging 5.0 points per game. Despite the consistent numbers, it is Long's durability on the court and unselfish play that King turns to for leadership on the court.
"Allie is an invaluable presence on the team," remarked King. "She always does her job on the court, while providing the support her teammates need."
Added King, "She has increased her defensive presence this season, and we feel like when she shoots the three, we can't lose."
Headlining the statistical returnees for King are a pair of juniors, forward Becca Bolton and guard Meg Ingram. The duo has posted outstanding campaigns over their first two seasons and King notes the importance of both players to the program.
"Becca and Meg have changed what it means to play women's basketball at W&L," stated King. "Both are incredibly strong and dedicated, and they bring so much to the team on and off the court."
As a sophomore, Bolton recorded a strong season in which she finished with a program-record 15 double-doubles while collecting 424 points, the fourth-best total in program history. She also finished third on the school's single-season list for free throws made (133) and attempted (169), while falling just two rebounds shy of the school record for most boards in a season with 305.
Add to that her team-leading 15.1 points per game and 10.9 rebounds per game averages, and it is easy to see why Bolton was the recipient of 2010 Division III News and Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) Honorable Mention All-America honors, in addition to D3Hoops.com Third Team All-Region, First Team All-ODAC and ODAC All-Tournament accolades.
"Becca is great under pressure, she is someone we know we can go to when the game is on the line," said King. "She is one of the best rebounders in the ODAC, and has improved her range and ball handling during the off-season."
Added King, "As long as she keeps doing her job on the court, she will wear teams down."
Last season, Ingram earned Second Team All-ODAC honors for the second time in her career while also being named the ODAC Tournament MVP after helping W&L by posting 44 points (14.7 ppg) and 14 assists (4.7 apg) in three tournament contests. She finished her sophomore campaign second on the team in scoring (13.3 ppg) and steals (44), while leading the team and the conference in assists (118).
"Meg deserves all the accolades she receives because she is a dedicated player," remarked King.
"Meg worked hard over the summer to improve her game, and is playing incredibly strong right now," said King. "She has improved her rebounding and defensive play, and is now finishing in the lane."
Junior Kari Ann Pfannenstein will also look to build on a strong sophomore campaign, where she tied career-bests in rebounding (6), assists (3), blocks (3) and steals (3) while playing in all 28 contests. Pfannenstein led the team in blocks (28) and three-point shooting percentage (37.8 percent) last season, and King is excited about what she can bring to the court again this winter.
"Kari Ann continues to grow in her confidence and knowledge of the game," stated King. "I have seen an increase in her competitiveness, along with improving her already strong three-point shot and rebounding."
The 2010-11 roster contains four players who competed for the Generals for the first time last season, and King anticipates big things from those players coming off the bench.
Leading the way is sophomore guard Katy Wilson, who appeared in all 28 contests for the Generals during her rookie campaign. Wilson had a strong conclusion to her first season with W&L, and that is something that King hopes she is able to continue this season.
"Katy definitely found her role on the team last season, and you could see that with her increased confidence and the way she played," stated King. "Now that she is a year older, I expect her to see increased playing time, which will only help to increase her scoring and rebounding opportunities."
Wilson was the recipient of ODAC All-Tournament honors, where she posted averages of 10.0 points (30) and 9.7 rebounds (29) over three contests, including double-digit rebounds in two games. Over the season, Wilson finished third on the team with an average of 5.4 rebounds per games, while chipping-in an average of 6.1 points per game.
Joining Wilson as the only other first-year who played in all 28 games is guard Rachel Warrick, who completed her rookie campaign with averages of 6.3 points and 2.5 rebounds per game. Not only was Warrick a strong offensive threat for W&L off the bench, but she also added a strong defensive presence to the court.
King said of Warrick, "Rachel provides an instant spark of offense off the bench, and I expect her to continue that this season. Her court vision has improved, along with her rebounding, and she has developed a more consistent shot."
Rounding out the returnees for W&L is sophomore guard Megan Marks and junior guard Allison Sublett. Marks appeared in 24 contests for the Generals, while Sublett recorded time in 12 games. After gaining valuable court time and experience in their initial season with W&L, King is hopeful the tandem will be able to contribute significantly to the offense this season.
"After a year in our system, I think Allison is ready to contribute to the team in conference play," said King. "She has built on her three-point shooting range, and will provide great depth for us in the guard position."
As for Marks, King noted, "Megan has made a commitment to improve and be a leader both on the court and in the locker room. I expect her role to expand, giving the team a lift off the bench while backing Long."
This season's roster will only have one new face in first-year player Shannon Cusack, but King expects her to make an immediate impact on the team.
"Shannon brings great range, and shows a lot of versatility in being able to play inside and outside," stated King. "She will provide depth in the four and five positions, and once she is comfortable may move to the guard position."
With a diverse roster of players that brings threats from all over the court, King is excited about the prospect for this season's squad.
"We have a balanced offensive attack with our ability to play inside and out as well as compete in transition and execute in the half court," remarked King. "All 10 players can create offense for themselves and their teammates. If we will work to share the ball, take great shots, rebound and finish a high percentage of our missed shots then we have the chance to be extraordinary on the offensive side of the ball."
Added King, "We have great depth and superior team chemistry. If we continue to attack on the defensive end, improve our rebounding and toughness, and make a commitment to improvement and putting the team first then we have the opportunity to be very special."
King recognizes it will be a challenge to repeat as ODAC champions during the 2010-11 season, but she feels that her players are ready for the test.
"We are going into this season with the mentality that we aren't defending a championship, stated King. "We are and always will be the 2010 ODAC Champions. It will be part of our program and part of all of us forever and it will now serve as the foundation for all of the possibilities for this year's team.
"We have set high expectations for the 2010-2011 season and our girls our working hard every day to get better. Hopefully that effort, teamwork and commitment to each other and our goals will make the journey exciting and fun and translate into enough wins to put our team in a position to play for something big."
The Generals kick off the 2010-11 campaign on the road, traveling to face Mary Washington on November 16 at 7:00 pm.