BRIDGEWATER, Va. – After being tabbed as the fourth-best team in the league in the preseason coaches poll, the Bridgewater Eagles women's basketball team will open the 2012-13 season on Friday evening in Arlington, Va. when it takes on Marymount University as part in the Marymount Tip-Off Tournament.
Bridgewater finished the 2011-12 season with a 15-11 overall record and earned a trip to the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) tournament. The Eagles were bounced out of the tournament in the first round by the eventual champion Quakers of Guilford College.
"It's been a little while since we made it out of the quarterfinals of the ODAC tournament and I think our players are hungry to advance beyond the first round," said head coach Jean Willi. "We brought in some talented players who will see significant time and as they improve our entire team will improve right along with them."
This season, Bridgewater returns a talented group of players but also welcomes a quartet of freshman to a team that will look to improve upon last year's performance. The Eagles welcome back 10 players from last year's team and will look to replace the production of Jenny Logan, Sarah Boeren and Jessie Owens who were lost due to graduation.
Senior Jessica Mullen rejoins the squad for her final season in the Crimson and Vegas Gold. Mullen earned first team All-ODAC accolades a year ago after leading the league in scoring. The Purcellville, Va. native averaged 18 points per game before being sidelined for the final eight games of the season due to medical reasons.
"Getting Jess back provides a spark to our team in and of itself," said Willi. "She's knocking some rust off at the moment just from being out for so long, but she's getting back in the groove and we're just excited to have her back and at full strength."
Aside from Mullen, the Eagles will need to find another consistent scoring threat this season and will look to a number of returning guards at the outset. Junior Holly Morgan increased her offensive production last season in Mullen's absence. The Staunton, Va. native dropped a career-high 19 points at Washington and Lee as part of a double-double effort. Morgan scored in doubles figures in seven of the final eight games of the 2011-12 season.
Bridgewater will look to a group of five additional returners to provide a quality boost at the guard positions and in reserve roles. Sophomores Emily Ashcraft, Kelsie Floyd and Kelly Hughes are joined by juniors Molly Shelley and Berlyn Seitz at the guard position and will all look to increase their roles as the season progresses.
"We have a number of returning guards who have all seen game time and each of which brings a different game to the floor," commented Willi. "We got dinged up a bit in preseason, but we should be at full strength for the beginning of the year and we expect our returners to play a key role during the course of the year."
In the post, Bridgewater returns a talented group of players in senior Katelynn Hottinger, junior Rebecca Reifsnider and sophomore Shannan Thorne. Last season, Hottinger saw action in 24 games with five starts and upped her scoring average to 7.2 points per game. Thorne was stellar during her rookie year with the program, averaging near double-double numbers. The Cross Junction, Va. native posted six double-doubles a year ago and pulled down a single-game record 20 rebounds in Bridgewater's victory over Randolph.
"We return a number of talented players in the post. Katie (Hottinger) has improved each year and brings a size element to the post that is hard to match in our league," said Willi. "Shannan had a great freshman year and just has a knack for being around the ball and is solid for us on the glass. Rebecca also provides us with quality minutes and will serve us in a number of roles in the post. She's a smart student-athlete in every sense of the phrase and brings that to the court."
Reifsnider returns to the mix after increasing her offensive production last season. The Keymar, Md. native played in all 26 games and posted a career-high nine points in Bridgewater's victory over Roanoke in January.
Willi brought in a talented group of freshmen players to complement the returning group and fill a few gaps left by the graduating class of 2012. Four newcomers will join the mix in guards Jessi Strom and Cassidy Burkholder and forwards OShene Kelly and Gabrielle Spinner. Strom and Burkholder were both 1,000-point scorers in high school, while Strom was an all-state selection during her senior year at Glenvar High School in Salem, Va.
"Jessi and Cassidy will each see some time at the point this year. They both provide us with a different look for our opponent and both had strong high school careers," said Willi on her two incoming guards. "Cassidy brings a lot of length to the floor and a solid defensive presence, while Jessi brings intangibles and court savvy to the mix for us. She sees the floor well and provides us with some composure at one of the more important positions on the floor."
Kelly and Spinner bring size and quickness to the post for Bridgewater after solid high school careers. Kelly was a two-time all-district choice at Skyline High School in Front Royal, Va. Spinner averaged a double-double during her career at Liberty High School in Bedford, Va.
"We are pleased with the progress of OShene and Gabbi. They both have speed and size which we will use to our advantage as the season rolls on," said Willi. "We expect them both to see quality minutes over the course of the year."
Willi expects the ODAC to be strong at the top this season with the preseason favorites contending for the league title. The 17-year head coach expects a number of teams to compete for the ODAC Championship while the remainder of the conference will be as balanced as ever.
"Guilford, Virginia Wesleyan and Eastern Mennonite are probably the three teams who will present the biggest challenge this year in the league. They all return a talented group of players and they each brought in a solid recruiting class as well," said Willi. "But outside of those three, the rest of us are relatively even. Our league is very balanced this year and to counter that we are playing a pretty loaded non-conference schedule."
Bridgewater opens league play on November 28 at Hollins and opens the home slate on December 1 against perennial favorite Roanoke.