Season Preview: New chapter begins for Gallaudet women’s basketball under Coach Brendan Stern
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The 2011-12 women's basketball season starts as a fresh slate for Gallaudet University after the Bison experienced one of the most successful seasons in program history last year. Gone is All-American forward Easter Faafiti and all-conference center Nukeitra Hayes along with head coach Kevin Cook. Back is five returners, including three starters, who will look to write their own history under new head coach Brendan Stern. Stern will seek to continue the winning ways at GU and start a new chapter in the storied history of Bison women's basketball.
Last season the Bison started the season with a 20-0 record, was nationally ranked for a month, shared the North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) regular-season title and earned an at-large berth into the NCAA Division III tournament for the first time in over a decade. GU finished with a 24-4 record (20-2 in the NEAC) to go with a slew of postseason award and national media attention.
The rebuilding starts at the top with Coach Stern, a former men's basketball player for the Bison, who took over at the helm this fall. Stern graduated from Gallaudet in 2006 after playing for the men's team for four years where he was captain for three of those years. Stern has spent the last three years serving as an assistant coach for the Bison's men's basketball team and is ready to take on his new role with youth and energy.
Stern knows that this year will be a test after losing two of their major impact players in Faafiti, now an assistant coach on the women's team, and Hayes. The new head coach sees this as more of an opportunity than an obstacle.
"It is usually difficult when a team loses its leading scorers and rebounders, let alone the conference player of the year and All-American, but in every departure lies an opportunity," said Stern. "Our players have to build the program from the ground up and if that's not invigorating, I don't know what is."
The returning talent begins with the lone senior on this season's team in guard Andrea Amati (Frederick, Md.). Amati comes off a season in which she averaged 6.2 points per game, 3.8 rebounds per game, and 1.5 assists per game. Her best game came against SUNY Cobleskill where she posted a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Amati can score and rebound well, which will prove valuable in this team's success.
Along with Amati the Bison will look for improved production from two returning sophomore guards, Stephanie Weiss (Wellington, Fla.) and Britny Latham (Cleveland, Tenn.). During her freshman season, Weiss started every single game for the Bison where she averaged 7.4 points per game, 2.6 rebounds per game, 2.5 assists per game, and 1.3 steals per game. Weiss scored double digits in nine games last season and hit her season-high of 15 points in three separate games. Latham saw action in 18 games (started seven) but was hampered by an injury midway through the season. She averaged 8.7 points per game, 1.2 rebounds per game, 1.4 assists per game, and 1.3 steals per game during her freshman campaign. Latham's best game came against Wells College as she netted 13 points, four assists, and three rebounds. These two will help handle the ball and the game tempo in the backcourt for the Bison.
Junior forward Amy Bachtel (Columbus, Ohio) is entering her third season with the Bison and is the most experienced front court player GU has. Last year, she averaged 2.5 points per game and 2.3 rebounds per game as she saw action in 25 games (12 starts). Bachtel scored her season-high 13 points at Cazenovia College as she also brought down a season-high six rebounds. Bachtel is joined upfront by sophomore forward Leslye Kang (Wayne, N.J.) who averaged 1.2 points per game and 1.6 rebounds per game last season in 14 games. Like Latham, Kang was slowed by an injury.
"There is no replacement for experience. I believe our returning players are ready to lead the team this year," said Stern. "We have several athletic newcomers. The physical aspect of the game is only half of the challenge, however, and only time will tell how much impact they'll have this season."
Nine new faces join the Bison women's basketball program this season.
Two new faces that provide much needed size to the front court for the Bison are freshmen forwards Elena Ciccarelli (Whitesboro, N.Y.) and Arlene Ngalle (Washington, D.C.). Both players stand at 5-foot-9 making them the two tallest players on the roster along with Bachtel. Their size should help make an impact on this guard heavy team as they learn and progress through the season.
Freshman Bianca Richards-Hamilton (Mesa, Ariz.) is set to make her highly anticipated debut for the Bison as an injury last year forced her to stay home and attend Arizona State University for academics. She transferred to Gallaudet this year and should make an immediate contribution to this team.
Rounding out the group of first-year players is a crew of athletic freshmen who are eager to learn and be a part of the Bison tradition. Cindy Siebert (Oakdale, Minn.), Chelsea Elstad (Colorado Spring, Colo.), Claire Tucker (Middletown, Md.), and Michai Hanley (Louisville, Ky.) all join the team at the guard position and through the guidance of the returning players should become an essential part of this unit.
The team will open the season with the Rinso Marquette Tournament at Lebanon Valley College on November 18 and 19. The Bison have a tough draw in the first game of the season against the nationally ranked Dutchmen. Last season, the Bison pulled an overtime upset against Lebanon Valley when they were ranked No. 17 in the nation. That win helped to jumpstart the Bison miraculous season. GU will make its home debut on November 26 and 27 when it hosts the annual GU Holiday Tournament at the Field House. The Bison will go up against Valley Forge Christian College at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 26. Conference play gets under way Dec. 1 with a home game against Lancaster Bible College. The Bison will travel to cross-town rival Trinity (D.C.) University on Dec. 3 followed by a game at Christendom (Dec. 5) in Front Royal, Va. Gallaudet will close out the semester with a home contest with Penn St.-Berks on Dec. 11. The Bison will break for four weeks for the holiday break and resume play on Jan. 7 at Cazenovia to start a three-game road trip. The Bison return home to face NEAC champions Keuka College on Jan. 14 in a rematch of last year's NEAC championship followed by home contests versus Wells College (Jan. 15), Penn St.-Harrisburg (Jan. 18) and SUNY Cobleskill (Jan. 22). Two road games and a home contest against Wilson on the 31st finish out the month of January. The Bison begin the month of February on the road against Morrisville St. (Feb. 4) and Penn St.-Harrisburg (Feb. 8). Gallaudet will closeout its home schedule against College of St. Elizabeth and Penn St.-Abington during the Feb. 11-12 weekend. The regular-season ends with a road trip to Wilson College on Feb. 15 and Penn St.-Berks four days later on Feb. 19. The NEAC tournament will run from Feb. 25-26.
There is a different set of expectations for this year's Bison squad compared to last season but the new influx of youth and energy should help re-energize GU's women's basketball program as it begins to take its first steps under Coach Stern.
"My expectations are to see our players play hard, grow together and to have fun along the way," said Stern. "I am young and energetic and so are our players, so hopefully that bodes well for us this year."