Women's basketball shoots for improvement

While most take this time to free themselves from all obligations, the Amherst women’s basketball team plays feverishly in a hot gym, surrounded by sweat and adrenaline. They do endless drills, sprints and foul shots, all with an intense passion. Their drive is unrivaled; they will not be shut down.

After finishing at .500 last year (2-7 NESCAC), the team has been working hard during preseason to prepare for the upcoming season.

“We’re definitely looking to improve on our record from last year, especially within the NESCAC,” said quad-captain forward Marissa McGuire ’04.

For the past two seasons, Amherst has struggled to succeed within the conference, finishing 2-7 and failing to make the postseaon both years. However, in 2000-1, Amherst compiled its best season ever.

Last season started off in a promising fashion. The team won their first nine games, beating powerhouses such as Western New England College and Westfield State College. Things turned downhill as the Jeffs struggled in conference play and barely missed qualifying for the eighth spot in the NESCAC tournament.

The season was not without its bright spots, however. The Jeffs led the league in three-point field goal percentage, blocked shots and defensive rebounding.

“We need to prove that we can have another nine-game winning streak at the start,” said quad-captain Shannon Russell ’04. But the team does not want to then lose 10 of the next 12 games, as it did last season.

Despite losing three-year starting point guard Sara Bozorg ’03 as well as Sarah Walker ’03, the team’s overall leader in blocked shots and rebounds, the Jeffs are returning a strong group of veterans who will do whatever it takes to win.

Led by a skilled group of seniors, the team is prepared to dominate the NESCAC courts. Quad-captain seniors Russell, McGuire, Caitlin Farrell and LaShauna Barboza are ready to take full control of their season. “The advantage we have with four seniors,” reports McGuire, “is a solid group of experienced players who each bring a different strength to the table and can lead the team with confidence.”

Farrell, last year’s Most Improved Player and Amherst’s second-leading shot blocker of all time ,is a powerhouse in the frontcourt.

Another key player will be Russell, who has clinched the title for most career three-pointers with 198, and was named to the Second-Team All-NESCAC last season. She was also the Jeffs’ MVP and top scorer last season with 387 points, including her 1,000th career point for Amherst. McGuire, an integral swing player, earned her place in the 2003 season at ninth in blocks and tenth in defensive rebounds in the NESCAC.

But don’t underestimate the young blood. Adding to the powerful senior quad is an experienced group of underclassmen, ready to make an impact in the NESCAC. Keep an eye on sophomore Katie Latham, who ended her rookie season fifth in the league for field goal percentage and 10th in free throw percentage. Joining her is fellow sophomore Julie Smith, who finished 12th in the league in blocked shots per game (0.84) and is looking to make an impact on the frontcourt in her second season. Watch for major contributions to the backcourt by Barboza, Kate Herlihy ’05, Ali Flato ’06 and Kristine Morin ’06 as well. With the advantage of four extremely hard-working first-years, in addition to a wealth of experienced returnees, a winning season is in full view.

In order to win, Amherst must maintain focus throughout the long season while improving in every area of play and maintaining their strengths. They led the NESCAC in rebounds last season and this skill remains an integral part of Amherst’s game.

“We’re playing a four out, one in offense,” said Russell. “And everyone needs to crash the boards.”

The team is coached by Billy McBride and Lynne Cinella. McBride, the NESCAC Coach of the Year in 2001, begins his 11th year as head coach and in that time has compiled a record of 136-103. McBride was a standout football and basketball player at Syracuse University, before a short career in the Canadian Football League.

Cinella, a standout player at St. Michael’s College and former assistant coach of Div. I Sacred Heart University, brings her vast knowledge of the game and unbounded enthusiasm to the team in her second season at Amherst. Assistant coach Lynn Hersey returns for her third year with the squad and will continue to work closely with the team’s point guards.

The team faces John Jay College in its first game of the season Friday in LeFrak Gym at 6 p.m. After playing in the Vassar Invitational the following day, the girls will rest for three days over Thanksgiving break.

With a lot to prove after last season’s disappointing conference finish, they are ready to show the NESCAC that determination and experience always prevail.