Women's hoops improves record for third straight year

By Peter Steele

The 2008-09 season is in the books for the Macalester women’s basketball team. With a 9-13 showing in the MIAC, the Scots improved their record for the third consecutive year and enjoyed having the sweet smell of a trip to the playoffs wafting through the air for most of the season. Chasing that aroma will have to wait until next November, but for now it is enough just to have smelled it. This season’s efforts left them just three games-and a couple of nail-biting losses-away from a long desired playoff berth.

Their run began last November. A couple of games into the new season, the Scots played their first game in the new Leonard Center against a tough Whitman (Wash.) squad that was ranked highly in the Northwest. The game was a back and forth battle in which Macalester staged a second half comeback to nearly tie despite being 12 points behind with less than eight minutes to go. Although they narrowly lost the game, the toughness they showed set the tone for the rest of the season.

After that, MIAC play began. There were several key turning points for the Scots which shaped the course of their annual skirmishes with their Minnesotan neighbors. The first came in the inaugural MIAC game in the Leonard Center, played against St. Mary’s. Led by Junior Trina PaStarr’s 18 points and 10 rebounds, and Holly Schiedermayer’s ’12 eight-for-eight performance at the free throw line, they cruised to a 65-50 victory. Starting the season off on such sublime footing helped them make quick work of Hamline and Bethel in their second and third games, leading to an early 3-0 conference record.

The second pivotal turning point of the season came in a Jan. 17 showdown with the dreaded Carleton Knights of Northfield in the Leonard Center. The Scots came into that matchup having won three of their previous four games. Their momentum had continued relatively unchallenged since the beginning of the season. They had a very un-shabby 6-3 record in the MIAC, and one of their recent wins was a decisive 88-71 over Gustavus, a perennially strong MIAC team considered a lock for the playoffs.

PaStarr, who led the team with 7.4 rebounds per game (5th best in the MIAC) and was second on the team with 12.9 points per game, said of the Gustavus game, “It was pretty exciting. As usual, we were the underdog, not expected to do much, and we totally blew them away. I think it set a nice tone for the rest of the season and really energized us.”

However, the game against Carleton was a different story. The Scots led the entire way, using the seven assists of Maggie Wood ’12, the 10 rebounds of Eartha Bell ’10, and Junior Ann Baltzer’s 16 points to hold off the pesky Knights until the bitter end. But Carleton’s Annie Isler ’09 drained a floater in the lane with just three ticks left on the clock to give her team a one point lead and soon after, a 56-55 victory.

This agonizing loss seemed to have detrimental effects for the young Mac team, as it marked the beginning of an eight-game losing skid that saw them lose more close games. These included a three point decision against fellow Grovelanders St. Catherine and a five point loss to eventual MIAC champs St. Benedict’s, who are currently playing in the Sweet 16 of the National Championship tournament.

PaStarr cites mental and physical fatigue and the loss of some players to study abroad as additional reasons for the slump.

“The more we lost, the more we got down on ourselves and lost fire. It took a major push by the coaching staff and players to rebound from this,” she said.

Yet rebound they did, both figuratively and literally, snapping the losing streak with a 73-59 victory over Augsburg. The Scots posted a 49-29 advantage on the boards that day en route to clinching a season sweep of the Auggies. They were further aided by the four assists each of Elise Pagel ’09 and Danielle Johnson ’10. This was the third critical turning point of the season, and it sparked a final two weeks of the year that were largely successful, including a 69-61 redemption over Carleton.

In analyzing a season that was undoubtedly another step forward for the Macalester program, it is important to look at a number of areas where the Scots were strong. For one, they were the second best offensive rebounding team in the MIAC, pulling down an average of over 13 a game.

In many games, they also had large advantages over their opponents in terms of points in the paint, showing their ability to be physical and work the ball inside. Finally, the Scots held up well in terms of bench play and depth. There were a number of players besides the starting five who were able to make strong contributions, and ten different Scots averaged over 10 minutes a game of playing time, helping to lighten the load of their teammates. This depth was fueled in part by a large and talented incoming group of first-years.

Coach Ellen Thompson says that she is hopeful about next year, particularly in light of the team’s progress and work they continue to do to improve.

“Our team has made a commitment to improving their basketball skills and to working on a strength and conditioning program,” Thompson said. “Our goal is to come back next season with goals of improving our play on the court, getting more wins and making the MIAC playoffs. Each of our players understands what it will take to reach these goals. I’m excited by the energy and focus I’ve seen from our team as they begin to prepare for next season.