Bolstered by newcomers, women focus on basics

By Nate Oglesbee

For anyone who witnessed the travesty that was the women’s basketball season last year, things certainly appear to have rebounded nicely. Almost a year ago the athletic department cancelled the remainder of the women’s season after six games. The team only had seven players on the roster and Macalester officials were worried about the health of the players. This past summer, head coach Jeannine Ruh resigned abruptly, leaving the athletic department with a big hole to fill. The current roster has only one holdover from last year, and five of their players didn’t start practicing with the team until they finished up fall sports a couple weeks ago.

Yet still, the team is in a much better position than they were this time last year, when the shorthanded and injury-riddled Scots were well on their way toward a cancelled season. New head coach Ellen Thompson is staying both positive and realistic.

“I would never go out and say we’re going to get smacked, I would never say that. But yet, I’ve never said we’re going to be the swan song or anything like that,” Thompson said. “We’ve got to work harder than anyone out there…And the thing I really like about this team is that they realize that, and they’re working their butts off to improve every skill.”

Working to improve those skills is especially critical for Macalester because the team now has a roster partially made of women who either haven’t played the game in years, or who have never played on a basketball team at all.

Katie Malnor ’06, Adrienne Keller ’06, Annie Borton ’07, and Callie PaStarr ’07 are all upperclassmen that are playing their first year of organized basketball since high school–or in Borton’s case, for the first time ever.

Most of the rest of the roster is made up of first-years or transfers, with only Merve Demirel ’08 coming back from last year’s squad.

Because of the abundance of new players and rusty skills, coach Thompson stressed that she is trying to improve the team’s shooting, hammer home fundamentals, and wants to keep the game plans pretty basic.

This will no doubt take some work, but while there are still kinks to work out, the team appears to be meshing on a personal level.

“[The players who have been practicing for a while] were so open, and really accepting and really excited about having new people,” Keller said. “Everyone’s just been enthusiastic, and now we feel like our season is getting under way.”

Coach Thompson added that the transition has “gone much more smoothly” than she ever expected.

Even with a larger roster, more talent and the recent infusion of new players, the Scots have, and will continue, to struggle to stay competitive.

Opening the season with some of its tougher competition, the squad faced Carleton and Simpson (Ia.), and was soundly defeated by scores of 29-67 and 27-81 respectively. The team is currently 0-5 on the young season, and will probably rack up more Ls' thanWs’ this year.

But after last year’s disaster no one is really expecting Mac to field a winning team this year, and for now, coach Thompson and the players are focused on getting the program up and running again.

“I’d like for us just to really form a team, since there wasn’t one last year,” Elise Pagel ’09 said.

Pagel has led the team in scoring in three of their games, averaging 12.8 ppg, while Brittini Chicuata ’08 is pulling down 7.8 rebounds a game to lead the team.

So far this year, the team’s field-goal percentage is hovering just above 20 percent and free throws are a little below 50 percent. Their opponents, meanwhile, have shot at a 45 percent clip from the field.

Because the team is only playing half the MIAC schedule this year, they’ve been forced to look for competition elsewhere. That change has Mac travelling farther and more often than usual, and also going up against some weaker opponents.

Mac should be able to play a competitive game against some of those non-MIAC schools and maybe battle out a win. There are two chances this weekend as Mac takes on Crown College and Martin Luther at home Friday and Saturday. Martin Luther lost to MIAC-worst St. Olaf earlier this year 71-46.

Still, coming off last season, coach Thompson and the team know nothing is going to come easy this year.

“We know what we’re faced with and we’re just going to go at it every game and work our butts off and hope for the best.