A program deep in tradition is looking for its way back into the postseason.
By Charlene Curtis for theACC.com
A mere two seasons ago, the Boston College Eagles defeated No. 1 seed Ohio State in the second round of the NCAA tournament to advance to their third Sweet 16 in four years. But the 2006-07 season was very different. In just its second season as a member of the ACC, Boston College finished with a record of 13-16 overall and 3-11 in conference play. Now the Eagles enter their third season in the league without a proven scorer, just two returning starters, and six untested freshmen.
The bright side of the picture is that the Eagles enter the 2007-08 season led by their veteran head coach, Cathy Inglese, who has been in this predicament before. After going 14-15 in 2001, the Eagles rattled off five consecutive 20-plus win seasons and three trips to the NCAA Sweet 16. Winning 20 games this season may be challenging for these young Eagles, but laying the groundwork for future success is not out of the realm of thinking.
Sophomore Ayla Brown (6-0, G) played out of position last season at the four spot but averaged 8.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. Brown will get a chance to move back out to the perimeter which is her natural position. She is a good rebounder from her perimeter position and has a good 3-point shooting range. Mickel Picco (5-8 G), also a sophomore, played well late in the season and averaged 8.9 points per game in ACC play. The aggressive left-hander will shoot the 3-pointer or knock down the mid-ranger jumper off the dribble.
The sophomore guards have both impressed their coach with their offseason workouts. "Picco and Brown are more confident," said Inglese. "Picco came on strong at the end of the season. The change is unbelievable. (Both) will be more consistent."
Help on the perimeter will come from red-shirt sophomore Brittanny Johnson, who sat out last season while recovering from ACL surgery. Johnson (5-8, G) is athletic and experienced. She can score off the dribble or can knock down the open 3-point shot. The Eagles missed her speed, quickness, and defensive prowess last season. When Johnson fully recovers from the tendinitis that developed after her surgery, she will be an important piece of the puzzle for Boston College.
Senior Victoria Jones (5-4, G) has the early edge at the starting point guard position. She played her first two collegiate seasons at Baylor before transferring to Boston College. Freshmen Jaclyn Thoman (5-9, G) and LaShaunda Pratt (5-7, G) will compete for playing time with Jones at the point guard position. And Corey Rusin (5-9, Jr., G) will compete for playing time on the perimeter.
Except for seniors Rebecca Miles (6-1, F) and Kaydia Kentish (6-3, F), the Eagles in the paint will all be young. Miles is now eligible after transferring from New Mexico Junior College and sitting out last season. Kentish started 13 games last season and hopes to use that experience to add to the Eagles inside production.
Inglese will look to two freshmen post players to provide her team with a true inside presence. Carolyn Swords (6-6) and Stefanie Murphy (6-4) are the tallest players on the Boston College roster. They will be asked early to carry the load on the boards, to defend the middle with their size and length, and to provide some scoring on the low block.
Looking back on last season, Inglese acknowledged that it was a difficult season for her and her players - particularly her seniors. "It was more difficult last year for the seniors who had been to three NCAA's and two Sweet 16s," said Inglese. But patience will be important as she and her staff approach this season. "Our freshmen will play key roles, so it is important that we (staff) keep talking about learning," said Inglese. "We are a young team with a staff that loves to teach."
Rusin's role may be just as important off the court as it is on the court when it comes to leading her teammates. "I know what it takes to get to a Sweet 16," said Rusin, who was a freshman the last time the Eagles advanced in the NCAA tournament. "I now have a role where I can teach them (my teammates) on and off the court."
She also said that the six freshmen are hungry for knowledge and want to do their best to contribute right away.
How hungry they are and how eager they are to "pay attention to detail" as Rusin suggested, could determine the success of the Boston College team this season. The path back to post-season play runs straight through the freshman class. With the right balance of upperclassman leadership and first- and second-year players who stay focused on learning details, the Boston College Eagles are poised to use this season as a step back to a winning record and a chance at post-season play.