2005-06 Women’s Basketball Preview
Olivia Zurek’s graduation increases the burden on junior Meg Coffin, above, a second-team All-NESCAC center in 2004-05.
The 2004-05 Bates College women’s basketball team won a school-record 25 games, finishing the year at 25-3 and going on a run through the NCAA Division III Tournament that ended with a 67-64 loss to the University of Southern Maine in the Sweet 16 on March 11.
Ranked No. 1 in the country from Feb. 8 to Feb. 29, the Bobcats finished the year ranked No. 6 by both D3hoops.com and the USA Today/ESPN Top 25 National Coaches’ Poll.
Unranked at the beginning of the season, the Bobcats made their fifth appearance in the NCAA Tournament and tied the school record for consecutive wins, winning 12 from Nov. 19 to Jan. 11. Bates finished second in NESCAC for the third straight year.
A player like Olivia Zurek is irreplaceable. The leading rebounder (885) and second-leading scorer (1,440) in Bates history, Zurek was named one of 10 Kodak Women’s Basketball Coaches’ Association All-Americans, and was also named a first-team All-American by D3hoops.com. In her senior season at Bates, Zurek averaged 16.6 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.68 steals per game and was named the NESCAC Player of the Year.
Two other starters will also be missed. Betsy Hochadel (9.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg) and Heather Taylor (8.9 ppg, 3.7 apg, 3.4 rpg) both proved to be solid contributors who saw a lot of playing time. Plus Elizabeth Blakeley, while she didn’t see much time on the floor, will be equally missed for her role as a consummate team-oriented player.
Despite the aforementioned losses, Jim Murphy (Bates ’69), the 2004-05 NESCAC Coach of the Year and entering his 11th season at Bates with a 206-74 career record (a .736 winning percentage), is more than comfortable with this season’s roster.
Returning from last year’s squad are 6-1 junior center Meg Coffin, a second-team All-NESCAC selection, and sophomore point guard Sarah Barton, the co-Rookie of the Year in the NESCAC. Coffin averaged 12.3 points and 7.6 rebounds per game for the Bobcats, while shooting .489 from the field and .676 from the free-throw line. Barton, meanwhile, dished out 4.4 assists per game in addition to her 8.1 ppg and 5.2 rpg averages.
Moreover, the NESCAC’s other Rookie of the Year in 2004-05, Amherst’s Matia Kostakis, is a welcome transfer to Bates. The 6-0 forward’s numbers last year — she ranked second in the conference in rebounding (9.8 rpg) and third in blocked shots (34) — suggest more good things to come for Murphy’s team.
“Matia has the ability to hit threes, she’s a very good ballhandler for her size, and she’s a relentless rebounder, particularly on the offensive boards,” Murphy said of the newcomer. “I think with Matia and Meg on the floor at he same time, to go witha player like Sarah Barton, who would much rather make the pass than take a shot, then that’s tough to defend. I think we’ll be tough.”
The question now is, when will the stars come out? Kostakis suffered a broken foot near the end of Bates’ volleyball season, and Coffin, also a first-team All-NESCAC soccer player, is hampered by back problems. Kostakis probably won’t compete until January, while Coffin will likely miss, at a minimum, this weekend’s games at the Brandeis Tip-Off Tournament.
In the meantime, Bates’ starting five will likely include Barton, the ever-improving 6-0 senior center Annie Whiting (Contoocook, N.H.); 5-5 senior guard Kyla Decato (Paris, Maine), who has shot the lights out during preseason practices; 5-8 sophomore forward Becca Buckler (North Wales, Pa.), who has been “very impressive” in the preseason, according to Murphy; and 5-10 first-year forward Val Beckwith (Woburn, Mass.), who already looks like a vital contributor.
Murphy figures he’ll bring 5-8 junior forward Katie Franklin (New Preston, Conn.) and 5-6 sophomore guard Mary Hart (Bradford, Mass.) first off the bench, but given Bates’ frantic, up-tempo style of play, Murphy may utilize his entire cast of substitutes.
A daunting pre-conference schedule for the Bobcats, who are ranked No. 17 in D3hoops.com’s preseason poll, includes No. 4 Southern Maine (Nov. 22), No. 20 Baldwin-Wallace (Dec. 20, at the D3 Desert Shootout in Las Vegas), No. 12 Springfield (Jan. 1) and possibly No. 8 Brandeis (Nov. 19 at the Brandeis Tip-Off Tournament) and No. 5 Scranton (Dec. 22 at the D3 Desert Shootout in Las Vegas). The slate will either cause the more inexperienced Bobcats to struggle or to quickly develop their abilities and chemistry, depending on how one looks at it. But by the time the nine-game conference schedule begins with a home game against Bowdoin on Jan. 13, Murphy believes the Bobcats may be a tough opponent for all comers — just as they were last season.
“I don’t think anyone wants to be the team that all of a sudden doesn’t do as well as everybody hoped,” said Murphy. “Because of the injuries first semester, we try and tell the players it’s just a matter of being focused. I think we have enough players to win if they’ll believe in themselves.”