January 28, 2009

Women’s Basketball Opener Reminiscent of Title Run

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Last year, the women’s basketball team could do no wrong. The Red rewrote Cornell’s record book en route to the Ivy League Championship, earning the program its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.
A lot has changed since last year. At 5-9 overall, the Red (1-1 Ivy) has already matched last year’s loss total. The drastic changes can be attributed to the loss of Jeomi Maduka ’09 and Moina Snyder ’09 in the paint — last year’s two leading scorers.
After finishing up her athletic eligibility last year, Snyder is now a volunteer assistant coach with the team. Despite being named the Ivy League Player of the Year last season, Maduka decided to focus on her track and field career — where she is a 13 time Ivy champion as well as a three-time All-American.
“Moina and Jeomi were special players — probably two of the best post players the program has ever had,” said head coach Dayna Smith. “With them leaving, there were big shoes to fill.”
Despite having only half as many wins this year as the team had at this point last season, there is one similarity between last year’s championship squad and this year’s revamped team — the Red’s conference record. After winning only four non-conference games, Cornell repeated last year’s home-and-home split with Columbia to start 1-1 in the Ivy League for the second consecutive year.
“Every year we schedule a very difficult non-conference schedule, and I think that this year may have even been a little tougher than last year,” Smith said. “Last year, the team had been together for a full solid year. We were starting our second year together, and we were able to win some of those early games and play with confidence.”
“This year is a little different,” Smith said. “We have new people in new roles. We lost our top-4 scorers from last season, so we still had to develop roles and learn who we are. I’m not concerned with the losses as long as we can learn from them.”
Despite a shaky start to the season, the Red is in the same exact position they were in last year’s title run, with identical game results — losing to Columbia on the road and beating them at home. Part of the reason for last weekend’s win against Columbia was a breakout performance from freshman forward Allie Munson.
Against the Lions, Munson had career-highs with 17 points, seven rebounds, and 25 minutes. Until last weekend, Munson had only 25 points on the season. With Munson’s performance, the question of who may be relied on to fill Snyder and Maduka’s shoes may be getting easier to answer. The solution, however, is still a bit unclear.
“Shannan [Scarselletta] is the veteran who we thought would step up and take [Snyder’s] spot, but with Jeomi not coming back, it threw [sophomore] Susie [Doyle] and [freshmen] Allie Munson, Christine Vlasic, and Allison Abt into more pressure moments and forced them to learn quicker,” Smith said.
Losing both Snyder and Maduka opened up playing time for Doyle (23.5 minutes/game), who played only 3.7 minutes a game last season. Meanwhile, the team’s three freshmen — forwards Christine Vlasic and Allie Munson as well as guard/forward Allison Abt — have combined to average 32.3 minutes a game. Last year’s trio of freshmen averaged single-digit minutes throughout the season.
“It’s been an adjustment for [the freshmen], and our style of play in the forward position has had to change,” Smith said. “They are more back-to-the-basket type post players, not so much transition players — more fundamental, skilled, on-the-block post players. So our post game has had to change quite a bit actually.”
The post game this season has centered on senior captain Shannan Scarselletta. Still the only woman on the team with a 20-point performance in her career, Scarselletta plays an average of 32.5 minutes a game — down from 20.9 . She currently ranks eighth in the Ivy League in playing time and is third among forwards.
“We would like [the freshmen’s minutes] to go up,” Smith said. “At the early part of the season, Shannan’s been really the only consistent forward, but she hasn’t had this much playing time in previous seasons.”
Doyle is the only other returning forward on the team. She is second on the team with 5.3 boards a game, behind Scarselletta’s 6.4.
“Susie had to make a huge adjustment last season [coming from Ireland],” Smith said. “And she was behind some really good post players last season so she didn’t see as much time in games. Then she got thrown into the starting role very quickly.
“Then we have three rookie forwards coming off the bench trying to provide us with some good minutes. But it’s hard coming from high school and making the transition to college. It’s a different style of play.”
Between Doyle, Munson and Vlasic, the team has gotten 47.3 minutes, 7.7 points and 10.5 boards in 47.3 minutes a game. Scarselleta leads the team with 12.5 points and 6.4 rebounds a night.
“The [freshmen’s] minutes haven’t quite been where we need them to be because they’re learning the plays, learning how to play physically on the defensive end, and learning how to make a post move. In high school they could just score over the top of people.
“In college, everyone is the same size and everyone is athletic, so you have to learn how to score off of a post move. Its been an adjustment for the freshmen as well as Susie, but we’ll need their minutes to increase as the season goes on because it’s going to be difficult for Shannan to log so many minutes.”
Somebody will have to make up for Snyder and Maduka’s combined 23.2 points and 13.3 rebounds a night — not to mention the production lost from the departure of the team’s third and fourth leading scorers from last year, guards Gretchen Gregg and Kayleen Fitzsimmons.
“All that’s important is winning Ivy games so we can win an Ivy League championship and go to the tournament,” Smith said. “The non-conference games are used to prepare us for that. Right now we’re in the same place we were last year — we’re 1-1 and we’ve got a big weekend coming up, so that’s all we’re going to worry about.”