With all five starters and 11 letterwinners returning from last season's NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen roster, expectations are understandably high for the 2011-12 William Paterson women's basketball team.
The Pioneers registered a school-record 26 victories (26-4) during the 2010-11 campaign, finished atop the 2011 New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) North Division standings and won the program's second NJAC Tournament crown (1993, 2011). Playing without a single senior, William Paterson advanced to the NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen for the fourth time in school history, led by a pair of all-Americans in guard BriAnna Lucas (Hamilton, N.J./Nottingham) and forward April Smith (Barnegat, N.J./Southern Regional).
Already picked among the top five in every national preseason poll, WP finds itself in a very different position than it was a year ago: one of being the hunted instead of the hunter.
"Obviously, our players gained great experience from last year and we feel confident about our ability to be successful," said 19th-year head coach Erin Monahan. "But at the same time, we're not thinking about preseason rankings or how we finished last season. We are taking things game by game and not looking too far ahead. This is a new team, as it is every year. Our goal right now is the same as it is every year: to work together, work hard and improve each and every day."
There is much more to the Pioneers' group of guards than Lucas, as William Paterson will be deep, talented and experienced on the perimeter.
Selected to the 10-member Women's Basketball Coaches Association/State Farm All-America Team, Lucas was the 2011 ECAC Metro Region Player of the Year and the NJAC Co-Player and Defensive Player of the Year. The lightning-quick 5-4 guard led the league and ranked 33rd nationally with 18.5 points per game, but her contributions as an offensive (1.65 assist/turnover ratio, 4.0 assists per game) and defensive (2.7 steals per game) playmaker cannot be overstated. An on-the-court leader, the senior needs to have the ball in her hands, and will contribute primarily at the point this winter.
After missing some early games due to an illness, Floriana Borova (Cresskill, N.J./Cresskill) came on strong at the end of her freshman season, finishing third for the Pioneers with 2.3 assists and 7.7 points per contest. Magical at times with the ball as a passer, Monahan will ask the 5-9 Borova to be less unselfish this season and look to create and shoot more from the two-guard spot as well as the point.
A 36.3 (33-91) percent three-point shooter, one of junior Lindsey Callander's (Branchburg, N.J./Somerville) best traits is her defense. The 5-6 two/three guard is a heady player who started 22 of 27 games a year ago, ranking second in assists (2.4 apg) and fourth in scoring (6.6 ppg) while compiling a 1.03 assist/turnover ratio.
Kristine Jackiewicz (Quakertown, Pa./Quakertown) gained valuable experience as a freshman, playing in 29 games and starting seven of the last 11. A hard worker, the 5-7 sophomore continues to improve on the defensive end of the floor, and will look to augment her 2010-11 averages of 2.8 points and 11.1 minutes per contest.
Aysun Malta (Lake Hiawatha, N.J./Parsippany) is a smart defender who will serve as William Paterson's third point guard this winter, a year after the 5-5 sophomore appeared in 21 games.
Joining the Pioneers' guard rotation are junior Kierra Walker (Pleasantville, N.J./Pleasantville), a transfer from North Carolina A&T State University, and freshman Keelin McGee (Northfield, N.J./Mainland Regional). The 5-6 Walker is similar to Lucas in her athleticism, explosiveness and defensive ability, and she sees the floor well and makes good decisions with the basketball. Named one of the top five athletes in Atlantic County, the 5-5 McGee is a defensive specialist who will continue to develop thanks to her work ethic.
Smith will have plenty of help on the interior for the Pioneers this season.
An honorable-mention WBCA all-American a year ago, the 5-9 Smith led the conference in rebounding (10.6 per game, 32nd in Division III) and double-doubles (19, eighth nationally) while finishing behind only Lucas in the NJAC scoring statistics (17.6 ppg). In addition to her formidable game under the basket, Smith has developed a perimeter game, making 30 three-pointers last season, and is driving to the basket with confidence. More controlled and in the best physical condition of her Pioneer career, she has taken initiative as a leader on the floor.
Dana Jeter (Hamilton, N.J./Steinert) seized a starting role as a freshman, averaging 4.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 29 games (22 starts). Expected to play primarily at the four but also capable of giving minutes at the three, the 5-11 sophomore can do a little bit of everything for the Pioneers, makes good decisions and has developed finesse around the basket that should translate into an expanded role on the offensive end this season.
After finishing second in rebounding (5.6 rpg) and fifth in scoring (6.5 ppg) last season, 5-11 junior Tatiana Javis (Hillside, N.J./Bloomfield Tech) will be fighting for a starting role at the four or three spot. Her work to improve her dribble-drive and perimeter shooting should pay dividends in the scoring column for WP.
Brittany Ennis (Lambertville, N.J./South Hunterdon Regional) is healthy this season after appearing in 16 contests a year ago. The 5-11 sophomore can play the three or four, due to her outside shooting, ability to get to the rim and rebounding down low.
Elena Noonan (Parsippany, N.J./Parsippany) started eight of her first 17 games as a freshman during the 2009-10 season, but has been sidelined by injuries since. Now back on the court, the 5-9 four player will be a welcome re-addition due to her leadership, intelligence, work ethic and rebounding.
Jewell Palmer (Woodbridge, N.J./Woodbridge) is expected to come off the bench at the four spot after the 5-11 forward averaged 4.1 points and 4.9 rebounds in 28 games as a freshman last season. Backing up Smith at the five will be 6-1 freshman Ashley Marfo (Bergenfield, N.J./Bergenfield), a good rebounder who Monahan describes as a sponge who learns and incorporates new concepts quickly. Rounding out the group is 6-1 freshman Dominica Gnaba (Edison, N.J./Edison), who averaged 10 points and 12 rebounds per game as a high school senior.