NORTON, MA- Having graduated six players who competed in an NCAA Tournament, returning six from a team that won 16 games in 2009-10 and welcoming 10 newcomers is the reality for eighth-year head coach Melissa L. Hodgdon and the Wheaton College women's basketball program. The challenge becomes how to make 2010-11 a success.
"I feel like I'm at a construction site," said Hodgdon, who draws a comparison to the Mars Center for Science and Technology that's being built across the street from the Haas Athletic Center. "I want to put yellow tape down everywhere and get players shirts that say women at work. I drive by the science center everyday and see progress and then I come in here and feel like we've taken a step forward. Like the science center, we're a work in progress."
Wheaton went 16-11 record last winter, including a 12-6 mark and fourth-place finish in the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC). The Lyons reached the league tournament semifinal round before losing to NCAA Tournament Elite Eight team Babson College, which enters the year as the 13th-ranked team in the nation according to D3hoops.com.
"We have short-term goals in order to achieve a long-term goal," added Hodgdon. "Each day we have practice goals in hopes of taking that next step to get better and develop more toward the final product. We have a sign in the locker room that states "I just got better," and that's like a daily goal for them. My belief is if they buy into that we will be successful."
With the NEWMAC scheduling a double-round-robin format for the second straight season, which assures each of the 10 league schools 18 conference games, Wheaton plays just four non-league contests before its NEWMAC opener against Babson on December 1. Needless to say, but time is of the essence for a 16-player team that is comprised of eight freshmen and two transfers who are all new to the system.
"We've had to teach more this year than the last three," stated Hodgdon. "We're breaking things down more, sometimes several times. We're all taking a collaborative effort to bring everyone along. This is a building process and we need everyone to stay positive, stay on board, grow and get better each day with the end result in mind. It doesn't all happen at once."
Losing 60 percent of its scoring and 58 percent of its rebounding, this year's team, which is devoid of seniors, will turn to junior captain Gabbie DePalo (Rumson, N.J./Rumson-Fair Haven Regional) for leadership. Playing in all 27 games at the forward spot as a sophomore, DePalo averaged 4.8 points and 3.7 rebounds in limited time.
Sophomore Natasha Colon Ortiz (Holyoke, Mass./Holyoke) joins DePalo in the frontcourt. Colon Ortiz, who is Wheaton's tallest player at 6-2, scored 4.6 points per game while pulling down 4.4 boards per contest in just 12 minutes.
Alongside the two aforementioned forwards are Drew University sophomore transfer Jana Jagodzinski (Old Greenwich, Conn./Greenwich) and freshmen Vanessa Campbell (Manchester, N.H./New Hampton School), Sarah Fitzgerald (Bath, Maine/Morse), Lauren McClelland (Scituate, Mass./Notre Dame) and Dana Zahoruiko (Amesbury, Mass./Amesbury). Campbell and Jagodzinski could also potentially see time on the wing.
Also expected to see time on the wing is junior Kristina Paolino (Stamford, Conn./Trinity Catholic), who missed all of last season to injury, sophomore Gabby Barbera (Ridgewood, N.J./Ridgewood) and freshman Carly Kiernan (Topsfield, Mass./Masconomet Regional). As a sophomore, Barbera averaged 4.6 points while shooting nearly 38 percent from beyond the three-point stripe.
Sophomore Jeana Trimboli (Norwalk, Conn./Trinity Catholic), who can play point guard if need be, is the Lyons' lone returning starter. From her shooting guard position, Trimboli broke the freshman three-pointer record with 61, which was also second in program history among all Wheaton players. Trimboli averaged 10.8 points and ranked second on the team in assists (80) and steals (32).
Barbera along with sophomore Hallie Vitagliano (Newton, Mass./Newton North) and freshmen Kara Carman (Ballston Spa, N.Y./Albany Academy for Girls) and Melissa McLaughlin (Spindale, N.C./R-S Central) are competing for time at the number-two guard spot.
At the point guard slot, which Hodgdon believes is the most vital position, the Lyons will have a new floor general for the first time in four seasons, as Keene State College junior transfer Nicole Cullinane (Rindge, N.H./New Hampton School) and Laura Pierce (Hampstead, N.H./Pinkerton Academy) are both vying for time.
Three 2010 NCAA Tournament teams dot Wheaton's schedule, with the possibility of four when the Lyons travel to the Williams College Classic in January. Wheaton opens the season on Tuesday at Roger Williams University before hosting a tip-off tournament beginning on Friday against Rivier College.