2011-12 W&J Women's Basketball Season Preview
The Washington & Jefferson College women’s basketball team will rely on experienced veterans to help bring along a host of underclasswomen as it tries to rise to the top of the Presidents’ Athletic Conference once again.
Four starters and nine letter winners return for the Presidents, who will be attempting to rebound after last season’s sixth-place PAC finish (9-17 overall, 6-10 PAC) which ended the program’s streak of eight consecutive 20-win seasons. A nucleus of five seniors provide eighth-year Head Coach Jina DeRubbo with a wealth of experience, a combined 342 games, as W&J tries for its first conference crown since 2006.
Solid play from the point guard position often goes a long way in determining a team’s success, and that will likely be the case for W&J in 2011-12. Second Team All-PAC senior point guard Vanessa Rivera (Reading, Pa./Wilson) provides the Presidents with a solid ball handler and is one of the top distributors in the league. Rivera led the PAC with 5.3 assists per game and finished second with a 1.60 assist to turnover ratio. She is also one of the top defensive players, as she led the Presidents with 60 steals.
Joining Rivera in the backcourt will be senior Kayla Strimel (Morgantown, W.Va./University) and junior Emily Abraham (Canfield, Ohio/Boardman). Strimel, a three-year letter winner, played in all 26 games last season as a wing player. She posted 5.1 points and pulled down 3.8 rebounds per game. Abraham is the Presidents’ third-leading returning scorer at 6.6 points per game and the top three-point threat. She connected on 35-98 (.357) shots beyond the arc and was named the MVP of the Marietta College Turkey Shoot last November.
W&J struggled at times to score at key stretches, shooting just 37 percent overall and averaging 57.2 points, both down about five points from the previous 23-5 season. However, DeRubbo believes that offseason hard work will pay dividends for the Presidents’ scoring touch.
The Presidents’ top returning scorer, senior Ashley Kirkpatrick (Sharon, Pa./Kennedy Catholic), is back for her final season as a forward for the Red & Black. Kirkpatrick averaged 11.0 points last season, but was limited to just 18 games after missing the first eight while recovering from knee surgery. When healthy, Kirkpatrick has shown that she can be a force both offensively and defensively on the low block. The team’s leading scorer in six of the final eight games, Kirkpatrick was also the top rebounder (5.2 rpg) and shot blocker (13).
Senior forward Courtney Walsh (Mill-Hall, Pa./Central Mountain) will be relied upon to increase her production in the post. Walsh appeared in all 26 games, averaging 5.7 points and 3.8 boards per game. She also snagged 19 steals and was one of the team’s best free throw shooters at 70 percent (49-70).
Senior forward Blair Cotton (Pittsburgh, Pa./Oakland Catholic) and sophomore point guard Kara Seamon (Morgantown, W.Va./University) are versatile players who played significant roles last year. Cotton netted 5.3 points, while starting nine games last season. Seamon saw action in each of W&J’s 26 games and shot nearly 40 percent (33-84), while contributing 27 assists.
Sophomores guards Alex Bernardi (Saint Clair, Mich./Saint Clair), Alexa Burzese (Sewickly, Pa./Quaker Valley) and Taylor Gruss (Johnstown, Pa./Conemaugh Valley) all have varsity experience from their rookie campaigns and will provide solid depth.
Sophomore Chelsea Apke (Pittsburgh, Pa./Mount Lebanon) is another intriguing option to add a scoring punch, but she is currently recovering from offseason surgery. A first-year transfer from NCAA Division I Presbyterian College, she appeared in 18 games for the Blue Hose and connected on 41 percent of her shot attempts. Apke joins a five-member freshman class which includes 6-foot-3 center Valerie Dunlap (Hostetter, Pa./Latrobe).
After a one-year hiatus, Washington & Jefferson hopes to earn a postseason bid for the seventh time in eight seasons under DeRubbo. W&J, striving to win the PAC for the 13th time in school history, begins its season on November 15th versus Case Western Reserve at the Henry Memorial Center at 7:00 pm.