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Women's Basketball 2012-13 Season Outlook
Senior Kristin Coles enjoyed a breakout junior campaign with the Retrievers ranking second in the league in field goal percentage
BALTIMORE - Following its first-ever America East regular season title in 2010-11, the UMBC women’s basketball team had high expectations surrounding its 2011-12 squad, which returned a trio of veterans in seniors Erin Brown, Michelle Kurowski and Topé Obajolu. The Retrievers entered the season the league favorite, being picked to finish first in the America East by five of the conference’s nine coaches in the annual preseason poll.
The black and gold battled through a rigorous non-conference slate, taking on seven teams that advanced to the 2011 postseason, and entered into conference action with a 6-7 record. UMBC would go on to sweep three league opponents and split three series, winning at home in all three cases to finish tied for fourth in the America East with a 9-7 mark in conference play. Despite tying for fourth with New Hampshire in the America East at the end of the regular season, UMBC charged through the tournament defeating the No. 4-Wildcats and top-seeded Boston University, becoming just the second No. 5-seed ever to make it to the America East Championship game. The Retrievers hung in against second-seeded Albany, tying the game at 48 with 7:53 left in regulation, but the Great Danes put the game out of reach with a 15-6 run over a 5:40 span to pick up their first-ever league title.
UMBC concluded the year with a 17-15 overall mark and ranked first in the America East in scoring (60.3). The Retrievers graduated 59.5 percent of its scoring from last season in Brown, Kurowski and Obajolu, however, 11th-year head coach Phil Stern knows that the black and gold will not be short of offensive weapons during the 2012-13 season. The Retrievers return an array of talent and experience, in addition to five newcomers, all of whom are determined to finish higher than the sixth-place finish that the America East coaches voted on just a few short weeks ago in the preseason poll.
“We begin a new era of UMBC women’s basketball,” said Stern. “We lost three great seniors that have meant so much to us over the past four years, but we are excited about what we are going to put on the court this year, starting with another great senior class.”
Kristin Coles, one of four captains on the Retrievers squad this year, is back for her senior season after a stellar junior campaign. The 5-9 guard will look to improve upon last year’s numbers which ranked her second in the league in field goal percentage, shooting at a .467 clip, and seventh in rebounding, averaging 7.6 per game. Coles increased her scoring production from her sophomore season (5.3) to 9.3 points per game in 2011-12 and led the team in steals per game (1.8).
“Kristin is returning off an incredible season last year where she showed that she can score the ball in many different ways and is clearly one of the best athletes around,” Stern said. “She is almost 100 percent after offseason surgery and we expect that she will have an even better season this year.”
Senior guards Brittany Crowell and Raven Harris will look to make even bigger contributions offensively in their final seasons with the Retrievers. Crowell saw action in 17 games in her first year at UMBC before suffering a season-ending knee injury at Hartford on Jan. 16. The 5-10 Brandywine, Md., native adds great size to the black and gold’s perimeter, where she ranked third on the team in three-point field goals, despite missing 13 games. Harris averaged 4.0 points per game in her first eligible season with UMBC, appearing in 26 games and making three starts.
“Brittany was playing great basketball when she got hurt last year and we expect that to continue this year, especially now that she is more acclimated to our system,” admitted Stern. “She is also a guard that can score in many different ways, but is probably one of the best three-point shooters around from well behind the arc.
“Raven has been giving us great leadership in practice and is really comfortable in our system now,” Stern continued. “I look for her to have a breakout year this season.”
Forward Kim Browning and center Dana Lewis, both captains this season, will provide leadership down low for UMBC in 2012-13. Browning, a senior, saw an increase in action during her junior campaign, appearing in 28 games and making the first five starts of her career. Lewis, appeared in 20 games, including the final 14 contests of the season as a sophomore.
“Kim knows our system better than anybody,” said Stern of the Retrievers’ only four-year letterwinner. “She has been here the longest and has played several positions for us over the years. Hopefully she settles into the role of the five this year and will be one of the players that will replace Topé at that spot.
“Dana is our one junior and she has been injured on and off the last couple of years,” Stern continued. “She played her best basketball at the end of the year last season and really helped us down the stretch.”
UMBC’s sophomore class, dubbed “a special one” by Stern, is led by reigning America East Rookie of the Year Lauren Chase. The point guard was an unanimous selection to the league’s All-Rookie Team after leading the Retrievers with 129 assists, the most ever by a Retriever freshman and ranking eighth on UMBC’s single-season record list. The Bowie, Md., native sat atop of the conference in assists (4.6 per game), was second in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.2) and was the only freshman to rank in the top-10 in the America East in minutes played (33.4).
“Lauren has improved her game over the summer and I think everybody will see some new things from her,” Stern said. “Her level of confidence is high, so I think she will be a great leader and captain for us at the point.”
Swing player Ashley Lambert and guard Bria White are both ready to step up and fill the shoes of the departed Brown and Kurowski. Lambert will see action at both the guard and forward positions again this season, after appearing in 27 games and making one start a year ago. White, who sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, averaged 7.2 points per game as a freshman with Longwood in 2010-11. The two will add to Crowell’s height on the perimeter, standing at 5-11 and 5-10, respectively.
“Ashley came back in great shape and I think she will reach the potential that everyone knows she has,” said Stern. “She will be a big factor for us, getting a lot of the post-ups Erin Brown and Michelle Kurowski got last year. She is a crafty lefty that can score in many different ways.
“Bria is someone that I think will explode onto the scene and will give us a big boost offensively,” Stern said of the transfer.
Stern welcomes his largest freshmen class since the 2008-09 season, with five newcomers joining the Retrievers for the 2012-13 campaign.
“We have a big freshmen class and all five of them can contribute in different ways,” Stern said of the rookies. “How many of them need to contribute this year is still yet to be seen.”
The freshmen class features three players over six feet tall, including 6-6 center Bridget O’Donnell. O’Donnell earned First Team All-Conference honors and was named a Top 20 scorer in Somerset County by the Star Ledger as a junior. Keri Kleist stands at 6-2 and will play forward and center for the Retrievers in 2012-13. Kleist earned All-Greater Miami Conference Second Team honors in 2010-11 after averaging 7.4 points per game at Sycamore High School.
“Bridget brings us a presence in the post we’ve never had before, being a legit 6-6 kid, who can shoot the basketball, score with her left hand and right hand and is a defensive presence,” Stern said. “She will make an immediate impact for us.
“Keri, at 6-2, can play several different positions and is going to be someone exciting to watch over the next four years as she develops into our system,” said Stern of the Mason, Ohio, native.
At 6-0, Liz McNaughton will see action at both the guard and forward positions in her rookie campaign. The Fairfax, Va., native averaged 15.6 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game as a junior at Fairfax High School, en route to earning First Team All-Liberty District and First Team All-Virginia High School League Northern Region honors.
“Liz is a very versatile wing player, in the likes of Erin Brown, she comes ready to play physically right away for us,” Stern said. “Again she is someone who can score from the perimeter and who can post up, so she fits perfectly into our system.”
Katrina Hutzell and Kayla Seymour will provide depth at the guard position in 2012-13. Hutzell is a two-time All-Concorde District First Team honoree from Chantilly High School, while Seymour averaged 11.3 points per game en route to earning all-conference and all-district honors.
“Kat is a wing player who I think has surprised us the most in practice with her ability to score and knock down shots at a high percentage,” said Stern.
“Kayla is a very talented point guard that understands where the ball needs to go and when,” Stern said. “She is doing a great job so far in learning our system and knowing where she should be and more importantly for a point guard, where everybody else should be.”
The Retrievers’ non-conference schedule features squads from nine different conferences, including three teams that competed in postseason tournaments last year. The 13-game slate – six home games and seven road contests – includes five opponents from the state of Maryland and concludes prior to the New Year with the Hawk Classic, hosted by Saint Joseph’s. UMBC opens its 16-game conference schedule hosting defending league champion Albany and is highlighted with a pair of ESPN3 games against Stony Brook and Binghamton.
“I’m excited about our schedule again this season,” Stern said. “What we’ve tried to do over the last two years is to put together a really difficult schedule against mid-major teams that have been on top of their conference over the last couple of years. So we are in our second year of our series with Princeton and we are in the second year of our series with Hampton, both teams that have won their conferences in the past two years and have gone on to the NCAA Tournament.
“We renew our local rivalries – which are always battles and always seem to be won by the home team – but we are excited about playing Loyola, Coppin State, Towson and Morgan State every year,” Stern continued. “It’s another tough schedule, but it’s a schedule that if we win and get through it with a decent record, it will help our RPI a lot.
“Overall, this is probably one of our most talented teams and one of the deepest teams that we’ve ever had, so we are really excited about the season,” said Stern.