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Women's Basketball Tips Off 2009-10 Season Against No. 14 Virginia Friday Night at the RAC
Eighth-year head coach Phil Stern
2009-10 Season Outlook
For the first time in his seven years at the helm of the UMBC women’s basketball team, head coach Phil Stern did not employ the
And for the first two months of the season, that is exactly what happened.
The Retrievers raced out to a 7-2 record, matching the program’s best nine-game start in the Division I era. They ranked in the top 20 in the nation in scoring, averaging an eye-popping 78.4 points per game. Junior Carlee Cassidy, the America East’s reigning scoring leader and a preseason all-conference selection, picked up right where she left off, scoring 20 points or more in 10 of her first 11 games, while an impressive trio of freshmen in Katie Brooks, Erin Brown and Michelle Kurowski combined to win six of the league’s first seven Rookie of the Week awards.
But when the calendar turned to 2009 and America East play began, the Retrievers seemed to hit a wall. UMBC, which featured one of the youngest rosters in the country with 13 underclassmen and no seniors, saw its scoring average fall to 65.4 points per game against league opponents and finished with a 6-10 conference mark.
His team now a year older and a year more experienced, Stern plans to incorporate some of his old concepts into last year’s fast-paced system for the 2009-10 season. With all five starters and 94 percent of last season’s scoring output returning from a team that tallied more than 2,000 points for just the second time in school history, the sky is the limit for the Retrievers.
“Being a senior, Carlee has been through the rigors of the America East, and now our sophomores and juniors, who played a bulk of the minutes last year, have a lot of experience under their belts,” Stern said. “I think the experience that Kurowski, Brown and Brooks all got last year was invaluable. They were thrown into the fire right away, playing major minutes right away, and they had huge games right away. Their growing pains came later, but they overcame them and played through it, so there won’t be any surprises for them as they go through the season this year, and that, coupled with our depth, should help us make a run this year.”
Once again, UMBC boasts a wealth of talent and depth at the guard positions, which could prove to be the team’s biggest strength.
Brokans has vast experience in UMBC’s backcourt with 57 starts in two years, including all 30 contests in 2008-09. Though she averages less than two points per game in her career, the 5-9 junior has proven an unselfish floor general who can take care of the ball. Last season she led the Retrievers with 110 assists and 52 steals and ranked second in the America East with a 1.7 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Brooks, on the other hand, was UMBC’s third-leading scorer a year ago, averaging 9.3 points per game, but also picked up her assists, as her 63 helpers ranked second only to Brokans. Brooks, 5-9, burst onto the scene with a torrid November, when she scored 15.0 points per game in six contests, earned a pair of America East Rookie of the Week awards and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Iona Thanksgiving Classic.
“At the point guard spot we have two complementary parts,” Stern said. “You have the experience in Michele Brokans, who is a coach on the floor and gets the ball to the right people. She doesn’t give us a lot of scoring, but she’s an excellent defender and plays her role very well. And then you have Katie Brooks, who is a scoring point guard who can give you 20 points on any given night, yet she can still get us into what we need to run and distribute the basketball. So we have some good options at that spot.”
Senior Carlee Cassidy, 5-9, returns to the shooting guard position after another monster season in 2008-09. An all-conference second-team selection after averaging 20.4 points per game, she became the first player to lead the America East in scoring in back-to-back seasons in nearly a decade.
An assassin from behind the arc, Cassidy became the Retrievers’ all-time leader in career 3-pointers with 178, and she also shattered UMBC’s single-season record with 80 triples. In addition, she set a number of other single-season marks, including points (613) and free throws (175), and she became the fourth-fastest Retriever to tally 1,000 career points, but Stern looks for her to make a greater impact on defense this season, as well.
“I think Carlee’s No. 1 goal is to leave here winning another championship,” the coach said of his lone senior and the only player remaining from UMBC’s 2007 America East Championship team. “All of her numbers will take care of themselves, and she is focused on being a better defender this year. I think that’s something that she’s been putting a lot of effort into.”
Stern also expects a breakout season from 5-8 junior Chelsea Barker, who saw less than five minutes per game a year ago but impressed Stern enough to earn a start during conference play.
“Chelsea Barker is going to see minutes at any guard spot for us,” he said. “She had a great preseason and is shooting the ball extremely well, and we’re excited for her to have more of an impact on the court this year.”
Sophomore Michelle Kurowski will resume her role as the ‘3’ guard, where she excelled last season. The 5-9
“Kurowski is coming in in even better shape this year, and she’s worked even harder during the preseason, if that’s possible,” Stern said. “She was set back by a finger injury, but it didn’t set back her conditioning, so if anything she’s gotten even better because it was a right-hand injury, so all she did was play left-handed throughout the preseason. I believe she’s going to have another huge year for us, and she will be a leader on the court.”
Five-foot-10 sophomore Erin Brown will also slide to her more natural wing position after playing mostly in the post a year ago. Brown averaged 9.2 points and 5.5 rebounds while shooting a team-best .451 during an outstanding freshman campaign that culminated in an America East All-Rookie team nod.
“We want to get Erin out of the post a little bit, free her up a little more to shoot the basketball and also take some people off the dribble, which I think she can do,” Stern said. “She has a chance to emerge as one of the premier players in the America East this year.”
Sophomore Kristin Coles, a 5-7 transfer from
After spending the majority of her first two seasons as an undersized center, 6-0 junior Meghan Colabella will shift to the ‘4’ spot and could even see some time on the wing, allowing UMBC to play a taller lineup. Colabella was the Retrievers’ top rebounder in 2008-09 with 6.2 boards per game, and this season she has added a new dimension to her game in a 3-point shot after knocking down just one of 15 triples a year ago.
“Meg Colabella had a great offseason,” Stern said. “She worked tirelessly on her jumper, and she now shoots the three just as well as anyone on our team, so that’s going to add a lot to her game. She’s a relentless rebounder, and I think now that she’s a junior she will be recognized as one of the top players in the America East.”
The Retrievers’ lone freshman, 6-2 Kim Browning will also see a lot of time in the post despite playing guard for her first three years of high school before switching to power forward as a senior. The native of
“Kim Browning is a 6-2 kid that has guard skills,” Stern said. “She is an excellent 3-point shooter, and we look for her to help us out in a lot of different ways this year.”
Obajolu led the Retrievers with 25 blocked shots last year, the third-most ever by a UMBC freshman, and ranked among the league leaders in rejections per game. Though her playing time was inconsistent, she had a breakout game early in the conference season, posting her first career double-double, and received the first of her four starts a game later.
Robinson showed marked development as last season progressed, eventually earning starts in the final three contests of the year and earning the team’s Most Improved Athlete award.
“Topé is a different person now; she has a new work ethic and a new attitude,” Stern said. “We look for some big things out of her on the block and also facing the basket. And Chrissy Robinson, who had a great offseason, as well, is going to make significant contributions at the ‘5’ this year.”
The Retrievers face a daunting non-conference slate that includes three games against major conference opponents in
“The schedule is by far the most difficult since I’ve been here, and it’s obviously highlighted by us hosting