Coming off last year’s season, in which it finished 17-10 overall and 7-5 in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference, SC hopes to be an improved team on the strength of its 11 returnees and a smattering of exciting newcomers.
SC’s campaign ended in 2011-12 with a hard-fought loss to NEWMAC Champion MIT, a team that eventually made it to the NCAA Final Four, in the conference tournament finals. In that contest, SC had a lead in the last two minutes on its opponent’s home court. The Pride would eventually fall by five points, however, in a fiercely-contested battle.
SC would like nothing better than to reverse that decision this year, even if the Engineers have been tabbed the nation’s pre-season No. 1-ranked team in Division III.
“I’m not sure that anyone in the NEWMAC is going to roll over just because we have the pre-season No. 1 team in the country within the league,” said SC Head Coach Charlie Brock. “The coaches in this league are all excellent. Their degree of preparation night-in and night-out makes it difficult for all of us. It’s mandatory that one play well in every game in order for any one or more of us to succeed.”
Making it tough for SC will be the fact that it lost its two “big” men to graduation – 6-8 Ryan Coburn and 6-5 Evan Christner.
“In Coburn, we lose a player who made a significant contribution on the defensive side,” said Brock. “He became the school’s all-time leading shot blocker by quite a margin. Not only did he average 7.9 points, he also led us in rebounding (6.3 pg). And in Christner, we had a very effective post-player who was not very easy to block out. Both will be missed.”
To counterbalance that loss, however, Brock will depend upon his guards.
“Our strength this year will be in our guard play,” said Brock. “We will almost assuredly play three guards a great deal of the time.”
And why not? Of those 11 returnees, six are guards, including the reigning NEWMAC Player of the Year in Alex Berthiaume, a talented 5-11 senior from Springfield, Mass. After transferring from NCAA Division II St. Michaels College in Winooski, Vermont, Berthiaume averaged 19.2 points per game for the Pride last season when he led the conference in scoring while starting all 27 games the team played.
The Springfield Cathedral High School grad also led SC last year in minutes played (34.8), field goals (84), field goals attempted (426), 3-point field goals made (41) and attempted (126), free throws made (110) and attempted (147), assists (92), steals (43), and points (519).
“As the NEWMAC Player of the Year, Alex will be somewhat of a marked man,” said Brock, “although I know he is talented enough to overcome that obstacle. His teammates will determine what type of influence he will have on the game. I‘m confident he will be able to determine how best to serve the team and understand how best to adjust to that role.”
Five of last year’s top six scorers return to the team. Besides Berthiaume, they include 5-10 senior guard Jordan Rote (Sheffield, Mass.), and 6-3 sophomore guard Nick Sienkiewicz (Cranston, R.I.). Both are three-point shooting threats. Rote was the team’s only-other double-figure scorer (10.2 points), and was a good rebounder for his size (4.5 pg). Sienkiewicz started 26 of the team’s 27 games, averaged 6.7 points, and was the team’s top free-throw shooter (.921).
“Rote is strong, athletic, and finds ways to get to the rim,” said Brock. ‘Sink’ is multi-faceted, makes his teammates better players, and is very basketball savvy.”
Despite the offensive prowess of the above three players, there was a decision made by Brock mid-season last year that may have had as much influence as any on the success of the squad. Sean Martin, a 6-1 guard from Rindge, N.H., had seen limited time in the first month of the season. But at the turn of the year, Martin was inserted into the starting line-up and suddenly the team started to roll.
“Sean is a true floor leader,” said Brock. “He made us better defensively, and set the tone by how hard he works.” Martin averaged 4.7 points per game in 15 starts. He very nearly led the team in steals with 41.
There are a number of other players on this squad who will undoubtedly contribute on many different levels.
Robbie Burke, a 6-4 junior forward from Cheshire, Mass., and Pat Rossi, a 6-5 senior forward from Rock Tavern, N.Y, will be depended upon to supply low-post work. Burke was the team’s fourth-leading scorer a year ago (7.5 ppg), and second-leading rebounder (6.1 pg). Rossi averaged 5.8 ppg and shot very well from the floor (.533).
If there is a crowd favorite, that must be 5-7 senior guard Matt Pascuzzo (Wallingford, Conn.). Described as a “waterbug” by Brock, Pascuzzo makes up for a lack in size with his excessive quickness. “He’s our man to pick up the tempo when needed,” said Brock.
Josh Altman is a 6-3 sophomore guard from Rockport, Mass. “He is a strong offensive threat,” said Brock. “He can shoot the three and will become that much better as he becomes more comfortable in his second year.”
George Adams, a 6-6 forward from Queens, has returned for his senior season after suffering a foot injury early as a junior. “George is a solid post player, and a great screener who can knock down the 15-footer as well as contribute down low,” said Brock.
Justin Tienhaara, a 6-5 sophomore forward from Holden, Mass., played in five contests last year. “Justin is improving his fundamentals as well as his footwork,” said Brock. “He is another strong post player, and is a solid player in our offense.”
Quinn McKenna, a 6-3 sophomore forward from Litchfield, Conn., played in two games last season. “Quinn is one of the most versatile players on the team,” said Brock. “He can play any of three positions on the floor.”
The last players to mention are complete newcomers.
Josh Downes is a 6-2 freshman guard from Cape Cod and is very athletic and a smart wing player with a solid pull-up jumper.
At 6-7 the tallest player on the team, Tim Swenson is a junior forward from Millbury, Mass. who has not played the last two years. He is a very good rebounder and solid post player.
Larry Piretra is in his first year coming from a highly-competitive high school program and owns a good perimeter game.
“I think we’ll be more up-tempo,” said Brock in trying to assess his team prior to the start of the season. “The league will be tough once again, and as usual we’ll play a difficult early schedule. We’ll be forced to help each other under the boards and must limit the turnovers.”
Overall, however, the feeling is one of optimism as Springfield College prepares for the 2012-13 season.