2012-13 Rider University Women's Basketball Outlook
Story Book Season
To have a story book season, you need a solid beginning, a middle that keeps the audience riveted and an ending that will hopefully bring fans back for more.
The Rider University women's basketball team had a solid beginning to last season, compiling the best non-conference record (8-3) of the 10 teams in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
When the Broncs hit the middle part of the season (at the beginning of the conference schedule) in January, the MAAC was ready for the rejuvenated Broncs and by the time March rolled around, injuries and academics had taken its toll with Rider only winning three more times.
The ending? A microcosm of the season that saw Rider lead big in its playoff game against Iona in the first half, trail big in the second half against the Gaels, force overtime on a last second shot and ultimately lose by one point. A riveting game but not the ending the Broncs were looking for.
"When we are healthy and clicking on all cylinders, we learned that we have the capability to compete against some very good teams," said head coach Lynn Milligan, in her sixth season at Rider. "We also learned that when obstacles get in the way, we have to work harder to get through them. Things happen to every team and we have to manage adversity a little better."
This season? Milligan and the Rider Broncs are looking to re-write the story, from beginning to end.
"Our outlook is positive," said Milligan "We feel that we are a veteran team this year. The team is excited about what lies ahead. They are working hard and are healthy and ready to go."
Rider returns nine letterwinners from the 2011-12 season including four starters from a team that won the most games since the 1999-2000 season when the Broncs went 14-14.
Bopp, a 6-2 forward/center and team captain, enters her senior season tied for sixth all-time on Rider's rebounding list with 662.
"I expect Caitlin to have the senior year she is supposed to have," said Milligan. "She is arguably one of the top post players in the conference. She can rebound and score and is a leader and has set some high goals for herself and the team. Caitlin is ready to leave her mark on the program."
Bopp was fourth in the MAAC in field goal percentage, fourth in offensive rebounds, fifth in total rebounding and eighth in the conference in blocked shots as a junior. In the 25 games in 2011-12, Caitlin made 18 starts and was third on the team (and 23rd in the MAAC) in scoring with 9.2 points per game.
A 6-0 forward, graduate student and team captain Carleigh Brown enters the 2012-13 season 22nd on the Rider career rebounding list with 402.
"Carleigh is a 'glue' type player," Milligan said. "She understands what is going on and the day to day grind; she understands the offense, defense and a lot about her teammates and as a player, she just finds a way to be on the floor and be productive. She wants to go out on top and is committed to the success of the team. She has a 'blue-collar' work ethic and you know what you are going to get from her every day."
Carleigh was named to the 2011-12 MAAC All-Academic team and appeared in all 30 games as a junior, making 25 starts. Carleigh was second on team in free throws made (65) and offensive rebounds (70), third on team in field goal percentage (.412) and rebounding (4.9) and fourth on team in assists (38).
A 5-6 guard, Dior Brown played in all 30 games as a junior after missing the second half of her sophomore season with a shoulder injury.
"Dior's role is to come into games and give us a spark of energy," Milligan said. "She is very strong, especially on the defensive end and she helps change the momentum of the game."
Chambers, a 5-7 guard and team captain, started the first 19 games of the season in 2011-12 before academics forced her out of the lineup for the final 11 games of the season.
"Sironda learned some hard lessons last year and has embraced the challenges that are in front of her," said Milligan. "For a player to be in the program less than two years and play for only half a season and yet still be named a tri-captain says a lot about her leadership. Her work ethic is terrific. She is a versatile, talented guard. She was our 'X' factor last year and has gained more understanding of the offense coming into this season. She is a quiet leader."
As a junior, Chambers was second on the team in scoring (10.0 points per game), free throw percentage (78.9%) and assists (2.4 per game), third in three-point shooting (30%) and fourth in steals (26).
Hall, a 5-9 guard, played in 24 games as a sophomore, all off the bench and averaged 7.2 minutes per contest.
"Alicia had a good summer," Milligan said. "She came back stronger and more fundamentally sound. She has the tools to do what we need our perimeter guards to do and I'm expecting her to continue her development."
McKenzie, a Third Team All-MAAC honoree, enters her junior season 15th on the Rider all-time rebounding list with 493.
"'Mac' has taken that next step in a growth manner," Milligan said. "She sees and understands the big picture and what it is going to take for this team to be great and what she can do to help us get there. She is a terrific rebounder and her floor game and floor presence has really developed. It is fun to watch her become more of a leader. She is poised to have a great season."
As a sophomore, McKenzie appeared in all 30 games, making 24 starts and led the MAAC in rebounding (9.1 rebounds per game) which was 50th nationally. McKenzie led Rider in scoring (10.8 points per game), rebounding (9.1 per game), free throws made (72), steals (48) and minutes played (32.2 per game) and was third on the team in blocks (16).
Lightbourne, a 5-10 guard, missed all of last season with a knee injury and is expected to miss the 2012-13 after injuring her other knee late in September.
"Sometimes, the gods of basketball can be really cruel," Milligan said. "For Shereen to have to go through a third knee surgery is devastating. Push aside what she could have done for us on the court, for a young lady to go through all of this again is upsetting. She is a fighter and is focused to get the uniform back on and she is determined to do that."
With several players losing seasons to injuries over the past few years, Milligan expects that to influence the attitude of the squad in 2012-13.
"You have to play every day like it is your last game," Milligan said. "Those are hard lessons to learn but the team is helped in its development by that concept."
The Broncs will also be helped (at least off the court) by the addition of Cincinnati transfer Lashay Banks who will be eligible for games in 2013-14.
"Lashay is an extremely talented player," Milligan said. "She is a bigger guard and for our players to face her in practice every day, that is going to make the team that much better. Her intensity that she brings to the floor is such a huge positive for us. She has a chip on her shoulder and wants to show what she can do. It's tough to sit out a season."
Banks played at Prep Charter in Philadelphia and was a four-time All-Public League selection, scoring 987 points.
Fazzini started all 30 games as a Rider rookie and was second on the team in three-pointers (27), third in assists (40), steals (29) and minutes played (28.0 per game), fourth in free throw percentage (72%) and fifth in scoring, averaging 7.1 points per game.
"With Emily, you know exactly what you are getting from her every day," Milligan said. "I expect her to continue to improve. She has a steady game and gives her all on both ends of the floor. Her range has gotten better and her understanding of the game has improved. I anticipate great things from her. She is another blue-collar type of player with another year of maturity under her belt."
Gillcrease appeared in nine games as a Rider rookie, playing behind Bopp and Sarah Homan who graduated after last season.
"Marritta is arguably the most improved player since the end of last season," Milligan said. "She is strong, rebounds and bang around on the inside. She was in the weight room all summer and she is in great condition. Her role is to be there for Caitlin (Bopp) and if we can stay big, we are going to have a chance to be pretty good. She needs to get comfortable at game speed and I think she has taken the steps to do that."
Valiuskyte appeared in 19 games as a rookie and saved her best for last, scoring a career-high 13 points with six rebounds and three assists in 37 minutes in Rider's overtime playoff loss against Iona.
"Kornelija could be our most improved player this season," said Milligan. "She had a great opportunity to play for her country on the Lithuanian U20 team this past summer and got a lot of valuable playing time against some great competition. She is playing with confidence and her preparation last season made her ready when her number was called. I expect her to run the offense and be a leader at the point-guard position for us. She got us to within two seconds of a playoff win last season and she is using that as motivation for this season."
As excited as Milligan is about her nine returning letterwinners, she is equally excited about having her entire coaching staff back for the third season in a row.
"If you look around the world of basketball, it is always changing," Milligan said. "I am truly lucky and blessed to have had the same assistants for a number of years. You are only as good as the people you are surrounding yourself with. Pam, John and Whitney are honest, hard working and always have my back. They are loyal and committed to the success we are trying to bring to this program. It's very rare to have this continuity and the players are the beneficiaries of that."
Rider added three talented rookies to the roster, Mikal Johnson, Janine Loutzenhiser and Taylor Wentzel and with the addition of a healthy Manon Pellet who red-shirted after a knee injury in 2012-13, the next chapter of the Bronc story is ready to be written.
Johnson, a 5-8 guard, comes to Rider from Osbourn High School in Virginia where she earned First Team All-District, Second Team All-Region and First Team All-Area honors while becoming her high school's career leading scorer with 1,417 points.
"Mikal has deep range and is a terrific and versatile guard," Milligan said. "She can defend and is the type of player that can get in the mix really quick."
A 6-1 forward, Loutzenhiser comes to Lawrenceville from Orinda, California, where she earned All-State and All-League honors while setting the Miramonte High School three-point record with 127.
"Janine is a trail post player," Milligan said. "She is a three-point shooter and is very good at it. Her game is going to develop to be more of an inside and outside threat and she is working hard on her post game as well."
Wentzel, a 5-6 guard, comes to Rider from Pittsburgh (Baldwin High School), where she averaged 14.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game while leading the Highlanders to the WPIAL (Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League) semifinals.
"Taylor is one of those players who you tell her what to do and she does it exactly that way," Milligan said. "She can play the point guard spot and the off guard position. She is working really hard on her shot and range and I think she will surprise some people and that's due to her work ethic. She is also an excellent defender."
A native of Marseille, France, Pellet is looking to finally get on the court for the Broncs after red-shirting last season due to a knee injury.
"When Manon is healthy, I think you are going to see a very special player," Milligan said. "We are still working to get her back to 100 percent. I've never seen a player work harder to rehab an injury; she is working five hours a day to get back. She wants to help this team and get back on the floor."
Milligan is truly excited about adding this rookie class to the mix.
"Having long-range shooters on the perimeter, that is going to free up our 'bigs'," Milligan said. "Both inside and out, this class really gives us depth. If we make our shots (kick-out) threes, we are going to be successful."
Rider begins the season on the road, at American East member Stony Brook on November 9 with the home opener on November 12 against NJIT.
"We are excited about this year's non-conference schedule," said Milligan. "We again believe that we have challenged ourselves with excellent opponents. We will be able to compete against various conferences and different styles of play."
Other non-conference opponents include Mount St. Mary's, Princeton, Lafayette, Brown, Quinnipiac or New Hampshire in the Brown Invitational, Army, Pittsburgh, Central Connecticut and St. Francis (NY).
"There are a ton of '50-50' games on the non-conference slate," Milligan said. "You want to see the teams that simulate the MAAC; the physical play, how they get after it, those things only make your team stronger as you head into January and February."
The 18-game MAAC schedule begins on January 4 when Rider hosts defending conference champion Marist. Other MAAC home contests include Canisius on January 10, Saint Peter's January 24, Manhattan on January 31, Niagara on February 2, Fairfield on February 7, Loyola Maryland on February 17, Siena on March 1 and Iona to finish the regular season on March 3.
The February 17 game against the 'Hounds will be on ESPN3 with the balance of the home games available on BroncVision and MAAC.TV, the pay per view audio and video service of Rider Athletics. All games, home and away, will also be streamed over the internet at 1077thebronc.com and most games will also air live on 107.7FM The Bronc.
The MAAC schedule culminates in Springfield, Massachusetts at the Mass Mutual Center with the MAAC Championships March 7-11.
"This conference is comprised of outstanding coaches and outstanding players," said Milligan. "The MAAC is filled with a lot of winning attitudes and when you have that, all of the teams are progressing and getting better. Everyone in this conference works hard day in and day out and it is a great conference because of that. The competitiveness is very high. Every night is an absolute battle and that's what makes it fun and what also keeps you going to do the extra things to prepare your team and put them in a position to be successful."
With a staff committed to excellence both on and off the court and a healthy roster, the Rider University women's basketball team is looking to write the perfect story in 2012-13, one with a solid beginning, a middle that keeps the audience riveted and an ending that will bring fans back for more.