Heading into 2008-09, and into her 18th year on the Springfield sidelines, Coach Graves has reason for optimism. She returns the NEWMAC Rookie of the Year and one of the more imposing frontcourts in the league.
Last season, the Pride owned a 16-11 record, including a 9-4 mark in conference play. As the No. 3 seed in the NEWMAC post-season tournament, the Pride advanced to the championship game, coming up just short of its sixth NCAA Tournament bid since the turn of the new millennium.
This season, looking to put a final stamp on her impressive career at Springfield, is 6-1 senior center Lauren O’Connor, who was elected a co-captain for the 2008-09 campaign along with fellow senior, Corey Finch. Fresh off setting a program record for single season field goal percentage last season (.595), O’Connor appears poised to make her final year at Springfield her finest. Last season, she netted 11.1 points per game, added 9.8 rebounds, and recorded nine double-doubles as one of the more dominant post players in the conference. “Lauren is one of the best post players in the region,” said Graves. “She will be our inside ‘go-to’ player this year. We’ll need Lauren to be a significant offensive contributor in order to be successful as a team.”
Teaming up on the blocks with O’Connor for their senior campaigns will be the duo of 5-8 forward Corey Finch and 6-0 center Liz Brosseau. Last season, Finch was one of the Pride’s most consistent players as she netted 9.3 points and chipped in with 6.1 rebounds. She appeared as a starter in 23 games. Scoring in double-digits 12 times last season, Finch was a dependable presence as a small forward in Graves’s offensive schemes. “Corey has been our silent killer the past several seasons,” said Graves. “She leads by example with a tremendous work-ethic and commitment to the game. We will need Corey to maintain her consistency on both ends of the floor.”
Coming off the bench and appearing in 26 games, Brosseau often teamed up with O’Connor to create one of the league’s more daunting low-post tandems. Last season, chipping in with 6.5 points and 2.9 rebounds while shooting .468 from the floor, Brosseau consistently provided a lift off the bench. “Like last year, Liz will be the first post off the bench, said Graves. “Liz had several strong performances, particularly in conference games, last season. We hope that she will keep that up.”
Bursting on the Springfield College women’s basketball scene last year, 5-4 guard Rachelle Walker proved right from the get-go that she was one of the brightest future stars within the league. As evident by leading the Pride to an early-season victory at Williams with her 19 point, five assist, four steal outburst, Walker showed her ability to take over games right from the outset. A deep threat who shot .409 from downtown (connecting on 47 threes), Walker will look to carry her first year success through her sophomore season. “Rachelle had a very good freshman season, earning NEWMAC Rookie of the Year honors,” said Graves. “She will continue to run the show at the point guard position, although she may play some at the 2-spot. We may need Rachelle to be a little more offensive-minded this year.”
Graves was certainly put to the test last campaign as her roster was comprised of eight first-years. With each gaining valuable experience, Graves returns a core group of sophomores which came close to receiving a taste of the Big Dance.
Turning it on in the final month of the season, 6-0 forward Meaghan Macarthur provided the Pride valuable minutes as a post player. In the final five games of the year, Macarthur averaged nearly 19 minutes per game and chipped in with 4.4 points and 2.6 rebounds. “Meaghan’s best performances came in the Conference tournament,” said Graves. “If she can match that, she’ll be fighting for a starting spot.”
Despite graduated seniors Christine Cotter and Tara McCarthy, 1,000 point scorers each, spending most of last season acting as the Pride’s primary guards, several first-years gained valuable playing time as they spelled the duo. A platoon of first year guards included 5-6 Abby Connors, 5-5 Kate LaBelle, and 5-7 Annie Lasek.
Connors, an offensive-minded player, gives Graves another option as she can hit the deep ball or slash to the hole. Connors appeared in 19 games, averaging 11.5 minutes, mostly running the point. “Abby will be fighting for a starting position,” said Graves, “providing she stays healthy.”
Lasek, a prolific-scorer in high school, played in 22 games as a freshman and shot .438 from the floor. Netting 2.0 points per game, she has the ability to get to the line (15-for-20 from the charity stripe). “Annie produced more rebounds and assists per minutes-played than anyone last season,” said Graves. “Hopefully, she’ll be able to get over her late-season injury from a year ago.”
LaBelle, another consistent first-year for Graves, was a solid player on both ends of the floor. A student of the game, she has a nose for the ball as evident by her ability to rebound and get into the passing lanes. Do not be surprised to see LaBelle gain a starting assignment. “Kate was a defensive stopper for us at times last year,” said Graves. “She brings a high level of intensity.”
Two other veterans will have the opportunity to work their way up the ranks, and earn more minutes. They are 5-7 senior guard KK Salmonsen and 5-6 sophomore guard Ashley Trahan. “KK works very hard every single day at practice,” said Graves. “Her attitude and work ethic are as strong as anyone’s on the team. I also expect to see Ashley play more minutes this season. She has improved defensively, and will be used in our pressing game.”
Five freshmen have been named to the varsity roster, and all five have a chance, maybe even a good chance, of playing right away. They include 5-10 forward Cherelle Allen, 5-4 guard Andrea Butler, 5-7 guard Meaghan Cavanaugh, 5-10 forward Emily Clark, and 5-8 guard Kelly Murphy. A shooter, Murphy may have the best chance to start, but all are guaranteed to contribute if early returns can be believed. Each brings a different dimension and strength.
As always, the 2008-09 schedule will be fraught with peril. Springfield will open against Worcester State at home on November 17. Other non-conference opponents will include the likes of Middlebury, Williams, Wesleyan, and Amherst from the always-tough NESCAC conference. Fitchburg State and Western Connecticut will provide tough tests. And the Pride will play in several in-season tourneys, including those at Williams, the Pioneer Valley Classic, and SC’s own Holiday Inn/Naismith Classic that will include Messiah, Salve Regina, and Skidmore. Then, of course, there is the 13-game NEWMAC test. Wheaton is defending league champion, but there are plenty of other threats from around the conference.