Rebuilding year brings seven wins for Women's Basketball

By Matt Day

Last time women’s basketball won seven games in a season, leading scorer Danielle Johnson ’10 was in the fifth grade.The Scots have seven wins for the first time since the 1998-1999 season, currently with a 7-17 record (5-16 MIAC) after Wednesday’s 52-61 loss to Carleton.

Second-year coach Ellen Thompson is not content with the program’s best season in eight years. “Our goal next year is to be in the playoffs. I’m not satisfied with anything less.”

Talk of the playoffs may have sounded farther out of reach two years ago.

Following a disappointing 1-24 year in 2003-2004, the 2004-2005 season was cancelled after six games due to a lack of players. Coach Jeannie Ruh resigned in July 2005.

Ellen Thompson, a St. Thomas assistant who was a captain on the 1991 national championship UST squad, was hired in August 2005.

Mac’s accomplishment in the first year of Thompson’s tenure was simply fielding a team. The Scots played an independent schedule shorthanded, at times with as few as seven players.

This year Macalester has a full roster and is officially back in the MIAC.

Returning to a full conference schedule was a top priority for Thompson. “It was what we needed to do. We could have had a lot of victories in an independent schedule, but this gave a lot of our players experience they needed,” she said.

Much of the team’s hopes this season were placed on a talented, 7-player recruiting class. Center Ann Baltzer ’10, a North Dakota all-state-tournament selection as a high school senior, carried much of the load early. Baltzer recorded 10 points and 10 rebounds in the first game of the season, a 53-36 loss to Elmhurst College.

Macalester earned its first victory in its second game, a 70-42 win over Caltech in Pasadena, California. The game was a coming-out party for another newcomer; guard Danielle Johnson ‘10 scored 21 points on 8 of 13 shooting.

Following a disappointing 0-4 start in conference play, Mac notched its first conference win in more than two years against Concordia-Moorhead. Trina PaStarr ’10 aided Mac in the win, recently returning from an elbow injury.

“There was a two week span where everyone was healthy, things were clicking,” Johnson said. The Scots made use of the healthy stretch, winning four of six and nearing the .500 mark in conference play.

Injuries stopped Mac’s run in the middle of January when Baltzer was diagnosed with a stress fracture in her left foot.

“It started hurting midseason but I played through it,” Baltzer said. “I just played on it too long.” At the time of her injury, Baltzer was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, averaging 11.4 and 6.9, respectively.

Her loss was felt immediately. “It was really hard the first few games after [the injury],” team captain Callie PaStarr ’07 said, “We had our offense centered around her.”

Trina PaStarr, Callie’s sister, stepped into Baltzer’s starting role.

Trina, whose natural tendency is to play outside, has thrived at the post. In the ten games since Baltzer’s injury, she is averaging 12.1 points and 8.1 rebounds.

“Trina has the ability to play both as a post and as a perimeter player,” Thompson said. “Overall she’s been very strong in both areas.”

Despite the team’s adjustments, without Baltzer they have lost eight out of their last ten games. “It’s kind of frustrating,” Baltzer said. “It’s really hard to sit on the sideline.”

Despite this season’s drawbacks, the future is promising. The vast majority of the team’s statistical productivity has come from underclassmen. Ninety-five percent of Mac’s scoring comes from freshmen and sophomores.

Mac’s inside game will be much improved next year with Baltzer’s return. Macalester boasts four freshmen 5-10 or taller.

“This team is really young and will do nothing but get better,” Callie PaStarr said.

Leadership, however, will have to come from new sources next season. The team will lose graduating seniors Callie PaStarr, Annie Borton, Chelsea Stinson, and Grace Wilson.

“The loss of senior leadership will hurt us,” Trina PaStarr said, “but I feel like we’ll pull it together.”

“If they get another freshmen class like this year’s they’ll have a really good chance. I’d say they have a really bright future,” Wilson said.

Thompson is hopeful that she can bring in a second talented recruiting class for 2007-2008.

“I’m telling people to look at the improvement this year,” she said, “We’ve made huge strides in just one season, and we are looking for that to continue.”

The Scots, who have played six straight on the road following the closure of the Macalester athletic facility for demolition, wrap up their season Saturday at Hamline.