By John Boccacino/Sports Information Director
When the Keuka College women's basketball team takes the floor for this weekend's Emerson College Tip-Off Tournament in Boston, Mass., the Wolfpack will have a new coach at the helm, as well as a new-look offense and defense.
Sarah Gaffney was hired to take over a Wolfpack program that has compiled an overall record of 172-78 (a .688 winning percentage) over the last decade, with four NCAA Division III tournament appearances in the last eight seasons.
Keuka graduated its top four scorers from a year ago (Jessica Bandrowski, Casey Chamberlain, Danielle Gravel and Taylor Szwec), and lost 65.1 percent of its scoring output, along with its top two rebounders from a squad that went 12-11 (10-6 NEAC) before bowing out in the NEAC semifinals.
But despite the losses to graduation, there is still ample talent returning for Gaffney's inaugural season in Keuka Park.
Senior co-captains Brittany Hadley (Jasper, N.Y./Jasper-Troupsburg) and Erica Pendrak (New Hartford, N.Y./New York Mills) combined to average 9.6 points per game, while sophomore guard/forward Katie Stuart (Tupper Lake, N.Y./Tupper Lake) was fifth on the team in scoring (7.5 ppg.) and was third in rebounding (5.0 rpg.) during her freshman season.
"Erica is an aggressive guard on both sides of the floor, and she will really put pressure on the opposing guards and give them trouble," said Gaffney, who served as the assistant women's basketball coach at Division II Eckerd (Fla.) College the last three years before taking over the Wolfpack program.
"Brittany does everything we ask of her on the court. She defends well, she is a good rebounder and she has that strong leadership presence for us. Katie Stuart is just a scorer, she can penetrate and she can get to the basket. We are going to post her up a bit on smaller guards, and she can also shoot the '3.' Katie will be our go-to scorer."
Sophomore Chinyere Ukwu (Roosevelt, N.Y./St. Dominic), a 6-foot-1 center, pulled down 87 rebounds (fourth on the team) and led the squad with 33 blocks during her first season with the Green and Gold.
Ukwu provides Gaffney with an intimidating shot-blocker presence in the post, and she is also developing her offensive game.
Looking to make her mark on the program, Gaffney has installed a Princeton-style offense that will look to push the pace in the transition game while utilizing frequent passing and cutting from the Wolfpack's student-athletes. Gaffney is confident her team can generate open '3s' and layups as part of a high-percentage offense.
Defensively, the Green and Gold will employ a man-to-man style that will apply pressure and will get in the passing lanes while making it difficult for the opposition to get into their offense.
"Our defense this year will be a lot different than last year. Our defensive philosophy is all about getting more pressure on the ball," Pendrak said. "We want to get after teams, get in their face and make it difficult for them to move the ball around. Offensively, we want to get the ball into our bigs a lot more this year. Our goals are to get back to the NEAC tournament, and from there, try to win NEAC's."
Gaffney and the women's basketball team will open the 2014-15 season with four straight road games, beginning with the Emerson College Tip-Off Tournament in Boston, Mass, Saturday and Sunday.
The Green and Gold will play host Emerson College at 1 p.m. Saturday, with St. Catherine taking on Wentworth Institute of Technology at 3 p.m.
The winners will then square off in the championship game at 3 p.m. Sunday, with the losers meeting in the tournament's consolation game at 1 p.m.
"We had a great preseason and everyone is really excited, energetic and ready to go," Gaffney said. "We have a lot of returning student-athletes who have experience playing college basketball. This group is full of winners who have won a lot of games here and have also been to the NCAA tournament before, so they have great experience under their belts."
Besides Hadley, Pendrak, Stuart and Ukwu, the Wolfpack return senior Amanda Kubitz (Spencerport, N.Y./E.J. Wilson), juniors Mackenzie Cole (Ogdensburg, N.Y./Ogdensburg Free), Victoria Davis (Livingston Manor, N.Y./Livingston Manor) and Ashley Terry (Andes, N.Y./Andes), as well as sophomores Samantha Blum (Niskayuna, N.Y./Colonie), Ashley D'Amore (Rome, N.Y./Rome Free Academy) and Tally McDonald (Romulus, N.Y./Romulus).
"This is a tight team with a lot of returners, and our freshmen and transfers have really clicked with the upperclassmen. We have great team chemistry and we're like a big family," Hadley said.
"We have fast point guards who can get to the basket, and we also have a lot of speed and height on the team. We will be looking to push the ball into the post to take advantage of our skill down there, so we will have lots of options. We just have to play with passion. Coach always says, 'If you work hard in practice, you will practice like you play.' So we are focused on bringing our passion and intensity every time we take the court."
The lone transfer is junior Meghan Ideman (Moravia, N.Y./Moravia), who starred at Tompkins-Cortland Community College for two years before her arrival in Keuka Park. Ideman, a guard, averaged 11.8 ppg. with 4.9 rpg. during her freshman season, and scored 10.8 ppg. with 3.9 rpg. and 1.5 steals per game during the 2013-14 season.
The freshman class includes guards Megan Cheasman (Cohocton, N.Y./Wayland-Cohocton) and Tatiana Sosnowsky (Harpursville, N.Y./Harpursville), and forwards Shiyandra Goins (Rochester, N.Y./Wilson) and Meqala MacDonald (Scotia, N.Y./Scotia-Glenville).
"I am unsure of our potential, but I know we have some talent coming back, and we brought in some talented freshmen to go with our transfers," Gaffney said. "There's a good mix of talent and we certainly have some nice pieces of the puzzle in place. I think we could make an impact in the NEAC this year and I'm really excited to see what this team can accomplish."
Keuka's guards are: Pendrak, Stuart (who can also play forward), Ideman, Kubitz, Meqala MacDonald (can also play forward), Cole, Cheasman, Tally McDonald, Sosnowsky and Terry.
The forwards are: Hadley, Davis, Ukwu, Blum, Goins and D'Amore.
Following the Emerson Tip-Off Tournament, the Green and Gold will travel to Alfred University for a 6 p.m. non-conference clash Nov. 21, before traveling to RIT for a 6 p.m. non-conference clash Nov. 24.
Keuka hosts SUNY Cobleskill for a 1 p.m. clash on Saturday, Dec. 6 in both the home opener and the North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) opener. The Green and Gold welcome NEAC rival SUNY Polytechnic (formerly SUNYIT) for a 1 p.m. home game on Dec. 7 to close out the fall semester.
To view the complete schedule, visit http://kcwolfpack.com/sports/wbkb/2014-15/schedule.