February 21, 2007

W. Basketball Relies On Youth Movement

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As a freshman almost exactly one year ago, forward Shannan Scarselletta made quite a precocious prediction about the future of the women’s basketball team.

“We are a very young team,” Scarselletta said. “We will win an Ivy League championship in the next four years. We have everything we need to do it.”

Perhaps more than ever, that prophecy appears to have some merit.
[img_assist|nid=21528|title=Slice and dice|desc=Sophomore Shannan Scarselletta, one of Cornell’s many talented young players, makes a move during the Red’s 71-57 loss to Harvard on Feb. 3.|link=none|align=left|width=75|height=100]
A year after putting together a 5-9 Ivy campaign in a rebuilding season, the Red (10-13, 6-4 Ivy), is in position to surpass the program’s best-ever conference record.

Furthermore, with the youth of this year’s team, there is much hope for even more improvement in the years to come.

“We know that our young players are very talented,” said head coach Dayna Smith. “They’re getting a lot of playing time and learning early in their careers what it takes to win games.”

Cornell’s current sophomore class has given the team an immediate boost since arriving on campus a year ago. With Scarselletta, forward Jeomi Maduka and guard Kayleen Fitzsimmons appearing in the starting lineup, all three finished among the top-5 scorers on the team.

Averaging 14.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game last season, Maduka not only received Ivy League Rookie of the Year honors but was also named to the All-League second team. Fitzsimmons also received honors for her performance — 12.9 points and a team-high 80 assists — as she was named one of the guards on the league’s All-Rookie team.

“That class came in with the attitude that they will get an Ivy League title while they are here,” Smith said. “They have a very competitive attitude and are determined. … They believe in what this team can do.”

Now sophomores, those same players continue to consistently produce for Cornell. Once again, Maduka paces the team in scoring and rebounding with averages of 13.8 and 8.1 per game respectively.

Meanwhile, Fitzsimmons ranks second on the team with 58 assists and third with 8.7 points per game. Scarselletta also ranks among team leaders in multiple categories, averaging 6.3 points and 4.0 rebounds per game.

At the same time, the addition of a couple of key freshmen has given the Red some depth. The most notable rookie is Lauren Benson, who recently earned her second Ivy League Rookie of the Week award of the season after scoring 21 points and collecting seven assists during last weekend’s games against Princeton and Penn.

Freshman Allie Fedorowicz has also found a niche among Cornell’s guard rotation. Starting both games this past weekend, she scored a combined nine points in the two games.

“These classes have meshed nicely together,” Smith said. “We need to continue to improve by recruiting classes that fit well together.”

Considering that Cornell’s freshman and sophomore classes have combined to account for 62 percent of the team’s scoring this season, it appears that these classes have not only meshed well together, but have also already taken on much of the load for the Red.

And with the invaluable experience these players are receiving — it is not uncommon to see the Red with only freshmen and sophomores on the floor — it should be interesting to see where these classes can take the program in the years to come.

“We don’t try on purpose to put only freshmen and sophomores on the court during games, but we don’t avoid it either,” Smith said. “With the experience they’re gaining, they’ve really improved throughout the course of the season.”