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November 17, 2009

 

Lofty expectations for debuting Cortland women

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

Just because the SUNY Cortland women’s basketball team captured 24 wins and went two rounds into the NCAA Division III basketball tournament last season doesn’t mean things came easily.
“It was a tough year, it was tough to get those wins,” said Coach Jeannette Mosher of that Red Dragons’ 24-5 campaign that included one disappointing stumble — a loss at home to Potsdam in the SUNY Athletic Conference playoff semifinals.
With school career scoring leader Jessica Laing back for her senior season, supported by a strong nucleus of Red Dragon veterans, expectations will remain high heading into this season. Things get going tonight at 6 p.m. in a Corey Gymnasium home opener against an Elmira College team that has former Cortland High standout Amanda Lawlor on the roster.
“Just because of our leadership, things seem to be going smoother now,” said Coach Mosher of her 12th season directing the Red Dragons. “Not to say we’re going to win 24 games again, that’s always hard, but I think just to put ourselves in position where we’d be able to host (the SUNYAC playoffs) and get into the NCAAs and go further, that’s ultimately what we’re shooting for.”
Not having guard Maggie Byrne for a full season due to an injury was among the things the Red Dragons had to overcome last year, and replacing current assistant coach Byrnes, four-year starting forward Ali Canale and steady guard Kristin Ciccone are the current Cortland priorities.
Having Laing around is always a comforting thought, the 5-foot-11 forward who guided South Kortright to a Class D state title during her scholastic days having averaged 18 points and 11 rebounds per game last year.
Laing was named ECAC Upstate Division III Player of the Year and was a third team All-America selection. Her 1,575 career points through three seasons are a school best and her 944 rebounds are just 14 shy of the Cortland record.
The supporting cast helping out Laing has been productive, too.
UP FRONT THE Red Dragons will start 5-foot-8 junior Jennifer Patten and six-foot sophomore Jamie Piperato. Patten is coming off a stellar season where she scored 10 points and grabbed five rebounds per game.
Piperato’s role will be expanded after getting limited playing time as a rookie, with the hope of giving Laing some help inside and off the backboards. “She gives us a little more size and it enables us to bring Jennifer Polan off the bench and go with a little bit different type of lineup,” said Mosher, junior Polan having started when Byrne was sidelined last year.
“Jamie has really worked hard to improve her game and worked hard over the summer to become stronger,” added Mosher. “With her, really she’s going from a really small role and not playing a whole lot to starting. I think you’re going to see some nerves and she will get better every minute she’s on the court. That’s the only thing that’s going to take time, because there’s no substitute for game experience.”
Sophomores Micki Volpini (7.6 points per game) and Allyson Biordi (3.6) got some experience last year and will start in the Red Dragons backcourt. “I think you’ll see some improvement with them as well, just from the experience standpoint,” says Mosher.
Senior Miranda Lustig is a team leader and another capable guard, the versatile Polan will see plenty of playing time in various roles and sophomore forward Mary Bruns will also be asked to do more for this team.
Among the newcomers, junior Maria O’Malley out of Oneonta and Mohawk Valley Community College is a raw talent who looks to help out. Freshman guard Tori McGuinn out of Valhalla is also gaining confidence and has been impressive.
Other fresh faces are freshmen Hannah Johnson from Unadailla Valley and Lindsey Bryant from Ithaca, along with 6-foot sophomores Kate Henderson from Canandaigua and sophomore Colorado native Kristin Neal at guard.
“WITH THE EIGHT returners we have, we really like the things those eight are doing and their leadership,” said Mosher. “I think that’s one of the things we lacked last year, a lack of leadership on the court, and I think we’ll have that this year which I hope will make things a little smoother and easier.”
That returning players will help in other ways, too.
“I think we’re going to have a little more depth, and I think that will help especially because we want to press a little bit more,” said Mosher. “We’re a little bit more athletic with a little more foot speed, We’ve always had some guards in the past, but I don’t think we’ve had the foot speed to do some things there. We’re hoping to create some offense out of our defense.”
Cortland scrimmaged Wilkes and perennial power Rochester to prepare for this season, where expectations will again by lofty. And as usual, every opponent seems to get up to face the Red dragons.
Coach Mosher pointed out the graduating seniors from a year ago went 15-1 on three different occasions in conference play, an impressive accomplishment.
“That’s tough to do and unfortunately you don’t hear much about that, it’s always geared towards the conference tournament and things like that,” said Mosher. “But it’s hard to do, it’s not easy, and one of the reasons you come here is you’re up for the challenge and ready to compete at the level. Every night is going to be a challenge for us and we have to be on top of things.”