Third-year head coach Bernadette Macca is excited about the 2011-12 Mitchell College women's basketball season. She returns only four letterwinners but will mix in eight fresh faces with the hopes of keeping the Mariners atop the New England Collegiate Conference standings.
Macca knows that, like with any young team, the Mariners will experience some growing pains to start the year. However, preseason practices have been encouraging, and with team chemistry at an all-time high, she expects the group will improve each time out on the floor.
Leading the way will be co-captains Bianca Young and Kaylee Cerruto, the only returning starters from a squad that went 14-10 overall last season and finished second in the NECC. The two will be asked to guide an inexperienced group through the rigors of the season. In addition to providing leadership both on and off the court, the two will be the top scoring threats for the Mariners.
Young, the lone senior, is the most experienced player on the roster. An undersized post player who is active around the basket, her toughness and athleticism make her a force in the paint. Macca will rely on her to anchor the frontcourt and rack up points and rebounds.
Cerruto is Mitchell's floor general and top outside threat. The junior point guard averaged 10.7 points per game last season and buried 42 three-pointers at a league-best 39-percent clip, earning all-conference honors for the first time in her career. As the catalyst of the offense, Cerruto will need to find the delicate balance between creating scoring opportunities for both herself and her teammates.
Junior Rebecca Tabak and sophomore Cora Harris also return to the sidelines this season. Each saw action as reserves last year and will look to expand their roles. The two have improved greatly since their rookie campaigns and will give the Mariners much-needed experience and depth.
The graduation of five seniors from the program has left an abundance of playing time up for grabs. Luckily for Macca, a group of talented newcomers is ready to step in and make an immediate impact.
Freshman Sheanna James leads the rookie class. The versatile guard can play three spots on the floor and has a quick first step and good range. Cara Begley and Sonja Woods will also see time at the guard spots. Each can shoot the three and has the speed to play pressure defense up and down the floor. Zilka Navarro, a heady point guard, and shooter Suzie Barbosa complete the backcourt rotation for the Mariners.
The frontcourt will be bolstered by newcomers Hannah Smith and Melissa Judson. Smith, who will see time at the four spot, can step out and hit the baseline jumper. Judson also has good range and touch but must make better use of her 5-11 frame by becoming more physical in the paint. Freshman Susan Shims, a ferocious rebounder, will bring toughness to the group.
With a wealth of athleticism and speed on the roster, Macca aims to open up the offense and stifle opponents with pressure defense. The Mariners will look to play an up-tempo style based on the strength of their guard play, a "run-and-shoot" offense that is predicated on strong defense and rebounding.
The Mariners tip off the season on Tuesday, November 15 at Albertus Magnus College, the first of 24 contests on the slate. Mitchell will then play at the Saint Joseph College Tournament before returning to New London for its home opener against Coast Guard Academy on November 21.
Conference play begins on December 6 at home against Elms College. With the addition of Regis College to the NECC ranks this season, the Mariners will play an 18-game league schedule that includes home and away dates with each school. A total of seven teams will qualify for the 2012 NECC Women's Basketball Championship, and the winner will earn the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Championship.