UMass Women's Basketball Opens with Exhibition Friday Vs. Athletes In Action
Oct. 31, 2007
AMHERST, MASS. - The 2007-08 edition of the UMass women's basketball team enters the season looking to build off a year that saw the Minutewomen go 17-13. That was the most wins by UMass since the 1997-98 season. They were 7-7 in Atlantic 10 play, good for sixth in the 14-team conference. The Minutewomen won five of their last seven games last year and look to carry that momentum into this campaign.
Marnie Dacko's club has a strong foundation, with four starters returning and nine of 11 letter-winners from last year coming back as well. The Minutewomen return 80 percent of last season's scoring. That includes the four seniors that will serve as the backbone of the team: Kate Mills, Alisha Tatham, Pam Rosanio, and Whitney McDonald. Mills was named to the Atlantic 10 Preseason All-Conference Second Team. "I think the four seniors, six upperclassman in all, are all very hungry," said Dacko. Dacko, now in her sixth season, will also be looking to incorporate new talent. Four freshmen and a sophomore transfer enter the mix and will look to contribute. She believes these new players will help offset the loss of Tamara Tatham and her 12.8 points and nine rebounds per game to graduation. "These freshmen are going to make us a much deeper team," said Dacko.
The development of the point guard position is a key to UMass' success this season. Kim Benton joined Sakera Young last year to give Dacko options on who to run the offense. The pair split duties for much of last season, combining to average just under 41 minutes per game.
"Sakera is growing by leaps and bounds," Dacko said. "She is becoming more vocal and becoming a leader. She brings us speed and is explosive. Sakera is seeing the floor much better. Her timing has gotten much better and her decision-making has improved."
Benton enters her sophomore season looking to improve other parts of her game while still being the Minutewomen's sharp-shooter from the outside. She nailed 50 three's last year, the third highest total in school history, and shot .350 from long range.
"Kim understands the leadership role from the point guard position," Dacko said. "She is a great shooter, but she's not someone who we want to just take outside shots. She has worked on finding other ways to score and helping her teammates score. Defensively, Kim has got to be able to really control the top of the perimeter for us to be successful."
Entering her senior season, Rosanio will continue to be a leader in the backcourt. The Southampton, Pa. native has finished in the top-three on the team in scoring in her first three seasons. She was also named Second Team All-Conference two of those years. Rosanio averaged 11.1 points and 5.3 points per game while dishing out 74 assists. She needs just 12 points to become the 16th player in UMass history to reach 1,000.
"When it comes to Pam, I look at her hustle. She's always the first one down the floor and the first one on the break," said Dacko. "She's worked hard at her game, trying to get other opportunities and finding ways to score off the perimeter using screens. Pam's worked on playing effective defense and being able to create some shots for other people. I think she's really going to have an outstanding year."
Alisha Tatham comes back to UMass for her senior year after spending the summer playing for Canada's International University team. She has been a member of the Canadian national program for three years. Tatham provided 6.4 points and 3.0 rebounds per game for UMass last year and is looking to peak in her final year in Maroon and White.
"Alisha is one of the hardest workers I've ever coached in my life," said Dacko. "She brings a great deal of leadership and is a tremendous student-athlete. She was a co-captain last year with Kate (Mills) and did an outstanding job. Alisha really cares a great deal about this team. She is in incredible shape after traveling all over with Canada Basketball this summer. She is very passionate about basketball, her teammates and her school."
Stefanie Gerardot enters her junior year looking to take her game to the next level. The Fort Wayne, Ind. native averaged 4.2 points per game and hit 19 three-pointers as a key bench player last year. Dacko is relying on her to be an offensive threat for her this season.
"Stef stayed this entire summer in Amherst and worked really hard to get in tip-top shape. She is a great shooter and is improving on being effective coming off screens, finding ways to get her shot off, and creating shots for her teammates," said Dacko. "She also worked on her ball handling skills this off-season. I think she's going to be very happy with the way the chips fall at the end of the season if she continues with the extra effort and the extra work."
Sophomore guard Diatiema Hill is looking to return from a knee injury suffered in the spring and subsequent surgery. She provides speed and energy off the bench, while playing tough defense. "Diatiema came here this summer and worked on rehabbing her knee after her surgery in June," Said Dacko. "The training staff is delighted with her recovery and she hasn't missed a workout. Diatiema has been an outstanding leader through it all. She has the speed, the quickness, and the understanding of the game. She has worked hard on her shot as well. She really has a knack for keeping the ball alive, getting offensive boards, and giving us other opportunity to score."
A pair of freshmen swing players on the wing will provide added depth. Stephanie Lawrence and Cerie Mosgrove, both 6-1, provide added length on the perimeter. Lawrence comes from Rigauld, Quebec, while Mosgrove won a Massachusetts state title at Needham last season.
"We recruited her to be an inside/outside player," Dacko said of Lawrence. She'll be great working off our flex-cut and she wants minutes. She is working on her defensive skills, ball handling, and finding other ways to score besides the outside shot. She has post presence and we have to get her to maximize her skill inside, outside, and on defense."
"Cerie is an outstanding shooter on the perimeter," Dacko said of Mosgrove. "She is very long, so she is a two-guard basically. Because of her length, we have to get her to work on posting up smaller people on the block. She is definitely somebody who can light it up on the perimeter at any given time."
Last season's leading scorer at 16.1 points per game, Mills will be looked to to lead the Minutewomen at both ends of the court again this year. She averaged 6.9 rebounds per game and blocked 64 shots, a school record. She also contributed 72 assists on her way to being named Third Team All-Conference. In last season's finale, she became the 15th player in school history to eclipse 1,000 career points. Mills is sure to add many more to that total as she will be the main cog in this year's offense.
"Kate has grown every year, grown into a leadership role, and grown into really making this her team," said Dacko. "She has been our go to player. Kate is probably the best perimeter shooter we have as well as the best percentage-wise. Our game is inside-outside, so Kate gets the ball every time down the floor and it's her decision to take it or dish it out. She is also a real stabilizing factor for us defensively."
Whitney McDonald is the fourth senior and will be looked to to provide rebounding and a defensive presence on the interior. She averaged 10 minutes, 2.7 points, and 1.5 rebounds per contest last year.
"Hopefully this year Whitney is going to move forward and really have a great senior season," said Dacko. "When the ball is in her hands, nobody can take it from her. She can finish inside and she can run the floor. She understands the offense and defense we want to play. Hopefully this is going to be her year."
The Minutewomen are loaded with young size, with three freshmen post players. Jene'e Jemison transferred to UMass from Wabash (Ill.) Valley College. At 6-3, she is the tallest player on the team and eight points, 10 rebounds, and two blocks per game as a freshman.
"Jene'e, as a junior college transfer, has come in and just done an incredible job in the summer," said Dacko. "She has really proven to us that she's somebody very hungry and wants to get it done. She's the tallest person on our team and very long. She's an inside player, but she does have a shooting touch from the 15 foot range. I'd like to see her be really aggressive inside, be effective battling for the boards and giving us more inside presence."
Valerie Avebe comes to UMass from Cameroon by way of the Tilton School in New Hampshire. She is a raw athletic talent that will continue to become more dangerous as she develops.
"Valerie has a great deal of potential," said Dacko. "She is learning how the game is played at this level and has a great deal of ability. She is very talented as far as quickness. She's very long and can get up. Hopefully we'll be able to work with her and get the maximum out of her ability. The sky's the limit for this young lady."
Teya Wright is rounds out the Minutewomen's class of four freshmen all over six feet. The Paterson, N.J. native averaged 15 points, 20 rebounds, and four blocks as a high school senior and will be relied on to provide depth on the interior.
""Teya is an outstanding athlete," said Dacko. "She is very gifted. She has quick release when she's posting up and can get the ball into the bucket. She just has a real nose for the basketball and fills the lane. She also has great ups for rebounding. Teya is strong in the post and is going to provide some defensive stability down low. She has the ability, so it's just a matter how much she is willing to work to determine how effective she will be."
UMass opens the season at home against the same team it opened last year with, Vermont on Nov. 9. The Minutewomen will remain at home for a Nov. 14 doubleheader with the men's team in which they will play Boston College in the evening's opener. They then hit the road to take on Northeasterm on Nov. 17.
After opening with three games in Massachusetts, the Minutewomen head south to Greenville, S.C. for the East Carolina Tournament Nov.23-24. They will face Jacksonville for the first time ever in game one, and then either Winthrop or the host Pirates on day two.
The road trip wraps for UMass with a Nov. 28 match-up with Boston University, before returning home to take on Hartford on Dec. 1. On Dec. 4, the Minutewomen head to Queens to play St. John's. That weekend they cross paths with New England rival Maine at home. They then play their second road game against a Big East foe in a week, traveling to Villanova on Dec. 11. The two-game road trip wraps-up on Staten Island with a Dec. 14 game at Wagner. On the Saturday before Christmas, the Minutewomen host Buffalo and then head to Providence to take on the Friars on New Year's Eve.
UMass' first game of the new year will be against another first-time opponent, hosting the Longwood Lancers on Jan. 3. That game opens a key part of the schedule for UMass, as it plays six of eight games at the Mullins Center in that stretch. Four of those home contests come in the form of Atlantic 10 match-ups. Those opponents are Rhode Island (1/12), Richmond (1/20), Fordham (1/30), and Saint Joseph's (2/3). The Richmond game will be televised nationally on CSTV. The Fordham contest will have a special start time of 11:45 for UMass annual Field Trip Day. Thousands of students from local schools will be at the game to cheer on the Minutewomen. A non-conference tilt with Yale on Jan. 22 breaks up the string of A-10 games. The two away games in that stretch are Charlotte (1/15) and Charlotte (1/26).
The next phase of the schedule looks to be the most challenging. The Minutewomen play four of their next five on the road, and the lone home game is against last season's A-10 champion, George Washington (2/13). The four road contests are all in-conference, with La Salle (2/6), Rhode Island (2/9), Saint Louis (2/16), and Duquesne (2/20).
UMass then closes out the home schedule with two games in Amherst. On Feb. 23 the Minutewomen host Dayton and then St. Bonaventure on Feb. 27. The regular season closes with Mar. 1 trip to Philadelphia to take on Temple.
The 2008 Atlantic 10 Tournament will be held in Philadelphia, March 7-10, with the top 12 teams qualifying.
The outlook for the 2007-08 looks bright for the Minutewomen. With the right combination of experienced veterans and talented newcomers, Coach Dacko is excited for the season to tip-off.
"I think we play an exciting brand of basketball, said Dacko. "When you watch our game it's a team game. We lead the conference in assists, we pass the ball and get the ball in the best shooter's hands. We shoot pretty effectively, over 40% from the floor. We get to the foul line a lot and we play team basketball. We're trying to do it the right way and these kids know what it takes. We're doing everything to empower these kids and make them the best team possible. Our conference is very, very challenging. When you look at the top four in our conference, they've all been to the NCAA tournament, they've been there, and they've got the tradition. We're trying to establish that tradition and these players want to leave a legacy and I think they have the ability to do that."
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