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Women's Basketball Season Outlook: Retrievers Take on New Role as Defending Champs
Senior captain Morgan Hatten is the Retrievers' top returning rebounder.
Then the celebrations began.
Senior forward Sharri Rohde, the team’s emotional leader, crumpled to the ground, sobbing with joy, and her teammates piled on top.
The date was March 11, 2007, and the Retrievers had just completed an unprecedented run through the America East Championships, becoming the first team in conference history to defeat the top three seeds in the league tournament. Seeded seventh, UMBC knocked off No. 2 Stony Brook (67-64), No. 3 Vermont (67-56) and two-time defending champion and top-seeded Hartford (48-46) on consecutive days to take home the school’s first-ever women’s basketball league title.
“Winning the tournament was a dream come true for everybody in our program, from the coaches to the players,” UMBC head coach Phil Stern said. “We feel that we really proved that we’ve made the adjustment to the mid-major level by winning the tournament and beating the top three teams in our league. Hopefully it’s something that we can build on and not just something that we are satisfied with.”
The win propelled the Retrievers to their first-ever berth in the NCAA Tournament, where they drew top-seeded
“Playing in the NCAA Tournament was even more than we ever thought it would be,” Stern said. “Going up to
The Retrievers played their best basketball when it counted. After a disappointing 13-16 regular-season record that included a 6-10 conference mark, UMBC rattled off three consecutive wins in the America East Championships before falling to eventual regional finalist UConn in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Retrievers finished the season 16-17, and the 16 victories are the fourth-most in school history and second-most in the Division-I era.
“Last season, I think we underachieved during the regular season. We were close at times, but we never quite reached our potential,” Stern said. “But when we got to the America East Tournament, something clicked and we played our best basketball of the year.”
This season’s Retriever squad looks quite different from the one that cut down the nets at the
Gone are Rohde (13.4 ppg), Brittnie Hughes (11.3 ppg) and Amanda Robinson (10.3 ppg), the team’s top three scorers from last season. Add in top reserve Heather Luttrell (3.0 ppg), and the Retrievers have lost 64 percent of their offense from 2006-07.
“It will be very difficult for us to replace each of them for different reasons,” Stern said. “Sharri was our rock and was just so reliable for four years. She willed her way to become one of the better players in the America East. Brittnie was our starting point guard for three years and did a great job scoring, a great job defensively, and really played her best basketball in the America East Tournament. Heather did so many intangibles that don’t show up in the box score that I don’t know how we’ll replace her. And Amanda was playing her best basketball at the end of last year.”
Stern recognizes there are many holes to fill with young players, but he believes his team is ready for the task of defending its America East title.
“We have to rely on [the newcomers] this year,” the coach said. “They’re going to get minutes, and they know that, and I think they’ll be up for the challenge.
“Although we do have a lot of question marks, there’s a lot of excitement because this is probably our most talented team across the board since I’ve been here,” he continued. “It will be a lot of fun for me to see how the pieces fall into place throughout the season.”
From the outset, the Retrievers will have a new floor general with the departure of Brittnie Hughes, who averaged 11.3 points per game and ranked fourth in the America East in assists and steals. All three point guards on the current roster did not play at UMBC last season.
Headlining the group is Michele Brokans, a 5-8 freshman from
“Michele Brokans is such a savvy point guard for a freshman,” Stern said. “She has been on a national stage with her AAU team, and I think she’ll be able to step in right away and lead us.”
Behind Brokans will be the combination of Chantay Frazier and Chelsea Barker. Frazier, a 5-8 junior from Choctaw,
“Chantay Frazier is an experienced junior college player, so I’m very comfortable putting her there,” Stern said. “She will see time at all of our guard spots and has a chance to start.”
Barker, a 5-8 freshman from
“Chelsea Barker is a freshman who is doing very well but needs to add some strength,” Stern said.
The shooting guard position will likely be the most experienced on the squad, as every player has played at the collegiate level.
Team co-captain Kristin Drabyn, a 5-7 senior, was one of just two Retrievers to start all 33 games last season in her first year as a starter. The team’s leading returning scorer, Drabyn averaged 9.6 points per game while leading the team with 68 3-point field goals. She emerged as one of the top 3-point shooters in the America East, as she ranked second in the conference with 2.06 3-pointers made per game, and her .330 shooting percentage from behind the arc ranked 81st in the nation.
Drabyn’s best stretch came in
“I think with all the confidence Drabyn gained at the end of last year, she’s set for a breakout year,” Stern said. “She’s obviously already one of the premier 3-point shooters in the league, but I think you’ll see her numbers increase. I’m real confident that she’ll continue to improve on what she’s done the last couple of years.”
Also seeing time at shooting guard will be Frazier and team co-captain Melissa Book. A 5-8 junior, Book scored 13 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in limited action last season, but Stern believes she is ready to break through.
“Book is having a great preseason,” Stern said. “She’s been a tremendous leader on and off the court so far this year.”
In a lineup that will feature four guards, Frazier and Book will also see time in the wing slot behind 5-9 sophomore Carlee Cassidy.
Always a 3-point threat, Cassidy averaged 4.5 points per game with 31 triples off the bench last season. She scored in spurts, with five double-digit performances, including two 17-point games, but she proved she could come through in the clutch when it mattered most, as she drilled four 3-pointers and scored 14 points in the America East Conference championship game to earn All-Tournament honors.
After she averaged 24.7 points per game as a high school senior, becoming
“I expect Carlee to have an explosive year,” Stern said. “I believe that she learned a lot from her freshman year and understands our system more and will be even more confident on the court. I expect Carlee to be one of our leading scorers and be able to take games over.”
While Sharri Rohde, a two-time All-Conference player who never missed a start in her career, moves from the court to the bench as a first-year assistant coach, versatile 5-10 senior co-captain Morgan Hatten slides over to the fourth guard position. Hatten started 26 games last season and has played almost every position in her first three years at UMBC, averaging 4.7 points and 4.4 rebounds per game as a junior. An outstanding ball handler, she ranked second in the America East with a 1.64 assist-to-turnover ratio and more than doubled her career total of helpers with 72.
“Last year, Morgan did a great job settling the team and being a very steady player, so hopefully we can settle her into one spot this year and she’ll be even more comfortable and improve on that this year,” Stern said.
Waiting in the wings behind Hatten is 6-0 freshman Meghan Colabella, who averaged 18 points and eight rebounds per game as a senior at
“Meghan Colabella is a strong freshman who is a smart basketball player,” Stern said. “We’re expecting big things out of her.”
While the Retrievers will miss Amanda Robinson, the Most Outstanding Player of the America East Championships, Stern believes the center position will be in very capable hands.
Mackenzie Butler, a 6-2 junior, missed 10 games in the middle of the season with a knee injury, but started the first six contests and averaged 1.6 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists on the year.
“Mackenzie is such a smart passer from our ‘5’ position that I definitely see her winning that spot again, but also being versatile enough to play other positions.”
“Jenny Lidgren has been playing great in the preseason,” Stern said. “She has a lot of international experience, and she’ll see major minutes, as well.”
Robinson, a 6-3 native of
“Chrissy Robinson is coming along well and will see minutes as she continues to develop,” Stern said.
Though the 2007-08 Retriever squad is very young, Stern likes the versatility of his roster, with many of the players capable of excelling at more than one position. The coach believes his team is also faster than it has been in the past and will be able to score more in the post. But once again the outstanding shooters will be the team’s strength.
UMBC faces a challenging non-conference schedule with three teams that were ranked in the top 25 last year in George Washington, James Madison and
“It’s a daunting non-conference schedule, but I think one that will prepare us even more for the America East,” Stern said. “The conference is always difficult, but I like that we end the season with three home games. Hopefully that will give us some momentum as we build towards the America East Tournament.”
Stern is excited to see how far his young team can go and looks forward to proving that last season’s conference title run was no fluke.
“We have five returning players who have been around the block a little bit and understand what we’re trying to do and want to prove that we’re not just a one-hit wonder,” Stern said.
“And I would say this incoming class is our most talented class overall. They’re all from winning programs and have extensive AAU, international or junior college experience. I think they are young ladies who can come in and contribute right away, and I look forward to watching them develop and see where they’re going to end up in four years.”