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Bearcats to field young team in 2002-03

The Binghamton University women’s basketball team enters the 2002-03 season with a young team geared toward making an impact in the America Conference.

Although the Bearcats lost four key players to graduation, head coach Laurie Kelly sees plenty of optimism for this upcoming season.

“We lost a lot of key players (to graduation),” Kelly said. “But we return some young, talented players. We also have some newcomers who will bring something to this team that we haven’t had in the past.”

Binghamton traditionally has had a dominant scorer but this season, Kelly asserts that the team will be more balanced in terms of scoring.

“We will be a more balanced team this season,” Kelly said. “In the past, we’ve relied on one person to be our go-to player. This year, the scoring should be a lot more evenly distributed.”

Townley returns to lead guards

The top returnee this season is junior point guard Kate Townley, a third-team America East all-conference selection a year ago. Townley led the conference in assists per game (4.36) and was third with 2.50 steals per game.

This season, the hope is that she will continue to increase her scoring. Townley jumped from 3.1 points per game as a freshman to 6.6 points per game last season. In the second half of last season, Townley excelled in all aspects of her game, as she averaged 11.2 points per game, 6.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 3.1 steals.

“Kate has a year’s experience as the starting point guard and is the team leader,” Kelly said. “We’d like to see her continue to become more of an offensive player. She stepped up in scoring during the second half of last season and we’d like to see her continue to do that.”

Backing up Townley at the point guard position is sophomore Andrea Herold, who saw action in every game her first season.

“Andrea will continue to be the backup point guard,” Kelly said. “She is a smart player with the ball and a great shooter.”

Senior Iesha Eldridge started the first six games of last season in the back court before settling into a reserve role. She averaged 2.3 points and 2.5 rebounds per game.

“We are counting on Iesha a lot this season,” Kelly said. “With a year under her belt, she has shown signs of becoming an excellent player. She is so athletic and gifted that we need to take advantage of that.”

Two other returning players who will be counted on at the guard position are sophomore Laura Scordino and redshirt freshman Kasi Quam.

Joining the team as a guard this season is freshman Jennifer Blues. Hailing from Overland Park, Kansas, she was a standout player at Blue Valley North High School.

“Jennifer has all of the tools necessary to be a standout freshman in the America East Conference,” Kelly said. “She is a good perimeter shooter and a very strong defensive player.”

Wegwerth to pace small forwards

The top returning small forward is junior Leala Wegwerth. After playing in a reserve role her freshman season, she started 21 games last year. Wegwerth averaged 6.7 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. In the final 15 games, she scored in double figures seven times. Wegwerth’s defensive play is a strength but the hope this season is for her offensive game to progress as well.

“Leala gained a lot of experience last season at the perimeter,” said Kelly. “She has always been a very good defensive stopper but she is also very gifted offensively, particularly in the transition game.”

Two other returning small forwards are senior Kristyn Pluchino and sophomore Molly Miller.

Freshman Rachel Laws joins the group of small forwards, having concluded a stellar career at Cheltenham (Pa.) High School.

“Rachel is an extremely athletic player, which is obvious when you watch her rebound,” Kelly said. “She is a strong rebounder and can get the ball to the basket.”

Dypolt returns at the post position

Junior Nicole Dypolt cracked into the starting lineup last season when Leah Truncale went down with an injury. Pressed into a starting role, Dypolt averaged 8.5 points and 5.0 rebounds per game over an eight-game span. Injuries, however, slowed her over the remainder of the season.

“Nicole has really battled injuries the past two seasons,” Kelly said. “When she’s healthy, she has showed what she is capable of doing. She stepped up her game when Leah got hurt and had one of the highest field goal percentages on the team. The key is to keep her healthy.”

Sophomore Kristin Hibler, played in all 28 games last season and started three times when Truncale and Dypolt were injured. With Truncale having graduated, Hibler should continue to see an increased role.

“Kristin is an athletic post player,” Kelly said. “She is our strongest returning rebounder and got quite a few minutes last year. We’re confident that she’ll become a more consistent offensive player in the post.”

Two other returning post players are sophomores Dagmara Bartula and Erin Forkey. Freshman Jen Haubrich, who had a standout career at Bow (N.H.) High School, joins the post players this season.

“Jen is a 4 player who plays very hard,” Kelly said,. “She is a good rebounder is the type of player who will go through a brick wall to help her team.”

Schedule and Outlook

Binghamton begins its second year in the America East Conference, which could produce another wide open race for the conference title. Last season, Hartford, which entered the America East Conference tournament as the number five seed, captured the title and gained the accompanying automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Once again, Binghamton will have home-and-home dates with all eight conference schools (Albany, Stony Brook, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Boston, Stony Brook and Hartford). Non-conference home games come against Cornell, Lehigh, Wagner and Army. On the road, Binghamton travels to the Morehead State Tournament to open the season (Nov. 22-23), where it will face Eastern Kentucky and the host school in its first two games. Other non-conference games on the road come against Syracuse, Columbia and Manhattan. In addition, the Bearcats travel to Texas for back-to-back games against Texas Pan American and Texas A&M Corpus Christi.

“We have a good balance in our schedule between our conference and non-conference games,” Kelly said. “We are excited about meeting Syracuse for the first time ever. Our first game of the year against Eastern Kentucky will be challenging and should give us an early indication of where we are as a team. Our trip down to Texas for those two games should be fun and challenging.”

With the loss of several key people, Kelly envision a wide open battle for the starting positions. When the season does arrive, the hope is that the team will have gelled into a competitive force in the America East Conference.

“Our preseason should be very competitive,” Kelly said. “We have five people who have had significant playing time last season and our three freshmen all have great potential.”

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