Women's Basketball Preseason Practice Underway
Oct. 24, 2005
Now in her fourth year, head coach Marnie Dacko has the foundation in place for the UMass women's basketball team to move back into the upper echelon of the Atlantic 10 Conference. UMass returns four starters from last year's team, which finished in a second-place tie in the A-10 East and advanced to the A-10 Tournament quarterfinals. The Minutewomen return three-quarters of its scoring from last season, including two A-10 All-Rookie team selections in Pam Rosanio and Kate Mills. The Minutewomen had one of the best defenses in the nation last year and will look to run more this year and create additional scoring opportunities.
"We definitely want to be a running team and get that in order pretty quickly," said Dacko. "We were a very solid defensive team last year and that is what will start our break. We have a nice mix of young and veteran talent that is ready to make a move."
The key to a successful team stems from the point guard and the Minutewomen have plenty of experience with fifth-year senior Katie Nelson running the show. Nelson is closing in on every three-point shooting record at UMass and has one of the best all-time assist-to-turnover ratios. She was third on the team last year with 8.4 ppg and had over 100 assists for the first time in her career. Nelson has averaged exactly 35 minutes a game in her career while compiling a 1.38 assist to turnover ratio.
"Katie is the person I look at to lead the team," said Dacko. "She knows the offense and how to run the break. I am hoping she will be in a better position to take more three-pointers than last year. We need Katie to be the `floor general' and I expect that she will have a great senior year."
Behind Katie will be sophomore Kaylie Schiavetta and freshman Sakera Young. Schiavetta saw action in five games last year and has a great touch from the outside. Young comes in as the all-time leading scorer at Glassboro (N.J.) High School. When she signed at UMass, she was ranked in the top-100 of all high school seniors. As a senior, she was a McDonald's All-America nominee.
"Kaylie and Sakera will benefit a lot from playing alongside Katie," said Dacko. "If we can put some pressure on teams and get into a running game, we will look to get two of them in at the same time. Sakera will get in your face defensively and really pressure the ball. She has great foot speed and quickness and understands our offense and the break. Kaylie is an outstanding three-point shooter and does a great job of getting the ball into the post."
With the kind of offense the Minutewomen run, it usually has a point guard, post player and then three swing players. UMass is very deep in this position. Senior Ashley Sharpton is someone who can come in and stick the three. The sharpshooter enters the season ranked ninth all-time at UMass in three-point field goal percentage.
"Ashley has made great improvements in her game," said Dacko. "She is someone who can consistently hit the three. Ashley is working on her ball handling ability, trying to take some of the pressure off the point guard. She really motivates her teammates and has some solid leadership skills."
Pam Rosanio had a stellar freshman season in which she was an A-10 All-Rookie team pick. Rosanio led the team in scoring at 10.9 ppg and that was also the second-highest freshman tally in the league. Rosanio played every game her freshman season and started all but one. She shot nearly 40 percent from the field and dished out 60 assists.
"Pam has been working hard and is going to be a better defensive player," said Dacko. "She will be the first one out of the gates and to filling the lanes on our break. She is another one of our young leaders who everyone really looks up to. She is becoming a more consistent shooter from the outside and also has the ability to post up some."
Alisha Tatham, younger sister of junior forward Tamara, comes back to UMass after spending her second straight summer with the Canadian Junior National Team. Tatham was selected as a captain of the Canadian squad this past summer and started for them. In her freshman year at UMass, Tatham played in 28 games and scored 41 points. She is going to be one of the players that will be looked upon to fill the shoes of Brooke Campbell. Campbell was the point on the defense last year and forced many opponent turnovers by pressuring the ball at the top of the key.
"Alisha has matured a lot as a player," said Dacko. "I look for her to be our defensive stopper. She will be the point on our half-court defense. Alisha is a player who will have her defense create offense. After getting a stop, she will be one of the first players filling the lanes. Alisha is a very hard worker who I hope will really blossom this season."
Rounding out the backcourt for the Minutewomen are a pair of freshmen in Erin Calipari and Stefanie Gerardot. Calipari was the Defensive Player of the Year for White Station (Tenn.) High School last year. She was also the recipient of the "Most Charges Taken" award.
"Erin is someone who is coming into her own," said Dacko. "She has taken the commitment head on and plays with a lot of enthusiasm, which has earned the respect of her teammates. She is a great defensive stopper who will give us added depth this year."
Gerardot finished second all-time at Bishop Luers (Ind.) High School in scoring and set a school record with 600 points as a senior. Like Sakera Young, Gerardot was a McDonald's All-America nominee.
"Being from Indiana, you know that Stefanie is a great pure shooter," said Dacko. "She came to UMass this summer in excellent shape, especially for a freshman, and that shows her dedication to the game. She is a smart player who is easily picking up our system."
There are four experienced post players that Dacko can interchange in the front court. Fifth-year senior Patrycja Gulak comes back for her second full year at UMass after transferring from St. John's. Gulak averaged 4.0 ppg and 3.4 rpg last year while ranking near the top of the league with 25 blocked shots.
"Patrycja has really dedicated herself to having a great senior season," said Dacko. "She went to Pete Newell's Post Player Development Camp over the summer and has worked hard to improve herself. As a staff, we are very pleased with the progress that she has made and the shape that she is in." After a great freshman season two years ago, Tamara Tatham proved that there is no such thing as a sophomore slump. She was second on the team last year with 9.1 ppg and 5.4 rpg. Her defense really picked up in the second half of the year and she finished the season ranked in the top-15 of the league with 50 steals. She spent the summer training with the Canadian Development National Team.
"Tamara has really improved during the off-season," said Dacko. "She benefited a lot from playing overseas this summer. Her strength is in her inside game, but she has really been working hard at developing an outside shot and being able to face-up. We are looking for Tamara to fill the shoes of Brooke Campbell in the rebounding department. We also want to see her be more aggressive and get to the line.
Kate Mills came into her own during the second half of the season and was an A-10 All-Rookie Team pick. She averaged 6.0 ppg and 3.3 rpg for the season. She also had 25 blocked shots to tie Gulak for the team lead, eighth in the A-10.
"Kate is one of the most-improved players we have coming into this season," said Dacko. "She has quickly become one of the leaders on this team and has made some significant efforts to improve her conditioning. She faces up well and can also play with her back to the basket."
Whitney McDonald is another post player who has re-committed herself and it is quickly paying dividends. She saw action in 18 games last year as a freshman and hauled in 27 rebounds.
"I expect Whitney to get quality minutes this season," said Dacko. She is one of our strongest players and has been working on some counter moves in the paint. Whitney has come back with a great attitude and is looking forward to an excellent season."
The Minutewomen once again embark on a challenging schedule. They have a couple of stretches where they will play three games in six days.
"As a coach, you'd rather have several days between games, but as a player you don't mind the short turnaround," said Dacko. "A player would always rather have a game than a practice. These kids are resilient and will step to the plate whenever we have a game."
The Minutewomen will open up the regular season at Delaware on Friday, Nov. 18. They then host Holy Cross in their home opener on Sunday, Nov. 20, at the Mullins Center. After a road contest at Eastern Michigan on Nov. 22, the Minutewomen will host three straight games at the Mullins Center. They will play Hartford on Nov. 26 at Noon, Siena on Nov. 29 and then Hofstra on Dec. 1. The Hofstra game marks the return of former men's basketball standout Winston Smith to the Mullins Center. Smith graduated from UMass in 2001 and is a first-year assistant coach at Hofstra.
UMass then hits the road for five-straight games away from the Mullins Center. It begins the trip with a game at New Hampshire on Sunday, Dec. 4. The Minutewomen will then play at ACC foe Boston College on Thursday, Dec. 8. UMass concludes the first semester with a game at Syracuse on Saturday, Dec. 10. After final exams, UMass will close out the 2005 calendar year by participating in the Georgia Tech Tournament. The Minutewomen will play Brown in the first round and then either Georgia Tech or Alabama State on the second day.
The Minutewomen will host Dayton on Tuesday, Jan. 3, to open up the conference slate. UMass hits the road for games at Duquesne (Jan. 6) and St. Bonaventure (Jan. 8), before returning home to host Rhode Island for the second annual Field Trip Day on Jan. 13. The game will tip-off at Noon. The Minutewomen will then head right back out on the road to face A-10 newcomer Charlotte on Jan. 15. After its trip to North Carolina, they return home to host Richmond (Jan. 19) and George Washington (Jan. 22).
UMass closes out January and welcomes in February with three-straight road games against La Salle (Jan. 27), Temple (Jan. 29) and Rhode Island (Feb. 2). Of its six final games, four will be at home in the Mullins Center. UMass will host Saint Joseph's (Feb. 5), Fordham (Feb. 12), St. Bonaventure (Feb. 19) and La Salle (Feb. 26). Road games in that stretch will be at Xavier (Feb. 17) and Saint Louis (Feb. 23).
The A-10 welcomes two new teams this year (Saint Louis and Charlotte) and has gone back to the no division format.
"This league is kind of like survival of the fittest," said Dacko. "Every game depends on who's on the road, who's hot and who's injured. It's going to be tough."
Dacko likes her team's chances this year and is eager to begin the new season.
"I like our team a lot," said Dacko. "We have a very athletic and energetic team that really understands what they need to do to be successful."