2009-10 Season Preview: Expectations, optimism surround Gators

                Consider Alex Gould an optimist.

                Lesser coaches wouldn’t have such expectations for a team bringing back only six letter winners from a 2-21 team. Most coaches wouldn’t be as excited as he is if one of the departures from his two-win team was a 1,000-point scorer and the conference’s all-time leading shot blocker.

                “My expectations this year are many,” said Gould.

                He’s expecting a lot with good reason. His Gators return three of the team’s top four scorers, all of whom averaged 10 or more points, and added notable talent – and more importantly, significant depth – from last season.

                “I want the girls to continue to learn how to work together, rely on each other more frequently, improve both individually and collectively, compete in each contest and hopefully win some games.”

                He now has a solid roster of 13. Last year, five players averaged a hefty 30 or more minutes in a rotation that rarely went eight deep. From last season’s team (2-21, 0-12 GNAC), the trio of Paulette Wright, Stacie Beauford and Enjolee Phillips (right) lead the way at this season’s top returnees, hence increased expectations from Gould, who took over mid-season a year ago.

                “I expect them to be leaders, both on and off the floor,” he said.  “I’m pleased to report that this has been happening already.  Additionally, I am looking to them to help other girls adjust to our new system and lead by example.”

                Leading the charge among the returnees is Wright, a 5-foot-8 forward who proved herself as one of the Great Northeast Athletic Conference’s elite young forwards. After spending the early part of the season rehabbing a knee injury, Wright (So., Baltimore, MD/Seton Keough) came back stronger than ever, averaging 11.8 points, seven rebounds and 1.8 steals in 12 games as a freshman. More impressively, she stepped up her level of play instantly upon her return, averaging 13.6 points, 7.7 boards and 2.1 steals in 10 GNAC games.

                “I expect [Paulette] to be a greater force than she was last year,” Gould said of Wright, who was named 2009 Pine Manor Athlete of the Year.

                A long, explosive interior player with a deft touch who plays bigger than her wiry 5-8 frame, Wright (left) will be looked to in replacing the bulk of the load left by the departure of center Amanda Dennis. The team’s most notable loss, the 6-1 pivot graduated as Pine Manor’s seventh all-time leading scorer with 1,187 points, setting the all-time GNAC record with 210 blocked shots.

                Though Wright won’t replace Dennis’ defensive prowess, the sophomore was playing as well as almost any forward in the league at the conclusion of 2009. She ended the season by adding 27-point, nine-rebound and 26-point, 11-rebound, four-steal outings to her resumé. Consider the GNAC warned.

                Running mate and fellow Baltimore, MD native Beauford (right) adds athleticism and a scoring punch to the Green and White frontcourt. A versatile, crafty slasher, Beauford (So., Baltimore, MD/Old Mill) can handle the ball in the open floor and play inside or on the perimeter. The 5-7 forward, like Wright, ended her season on a high note, averaging 12.7 points and eight rebounds over the last three contests. The team’s leading distributor at 1.8 assists a game, Beauford looks to build on a strong freshman campaign in which she also averaged 9.8 points and 4.3 points and 1.7 steals.

                After closing her freshman season with back-to-back 21-point outings, Phillips picked up as a sophomore right where she left off, leading the team in scoring at 12.3 points per game. An off-guard who can handle the ball and score in the paint in spite of her diminutive 5-foot-4 frame, Phillips (Jr., Hartford, CT/Weaver) was the team’s most consistent scorer and one of only two players to play in all 23 games. The most experienced Gator, Phillips is also one of the most disruptive defensively, as her 2.3 steals per game ranked her seventh in the GNAC a year ago.

                Also adding experience are juniors Jataiya Alexander, Phibe Pham and Jammy Torres (left). Alexander (Hartford, CT/Weaver) has earned minutes over her two seasons as a scrappy rebounder. At 5-6, the undersized, physical forward led the Gators in rebounding four times in her 16 games as a sophomore, thrice corralling 10 or more boards.  Pham (South Boston, MA/Snowden) averaged three points as a reserve two seasons ago and is expected to add outside shooting to a team that shot just 16 percent from the perimeter. Torres (Randolph, MA/Randolph) played in 19 games last year, making 10 starts, averaging 20 minutes a game.

                Additionally, returning to the backcourt is Yiafia Dowridge (So./White Plains, NY/Woodlands). The 5-foot-6 guard started the first two games last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury and averaged 2.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and 22 minutes in contests against Amherst and St. Lawrence. She’s expected to offer Gould another option at the point.

                While it’s his returnees who bring experience, it’s his newcomers who add depth. What has Gould perhaps most excited is that all his added depth is ready to step in and contribute.

                “Our newcomers can play, and I’m looking for immediate impact, especially scoring the ball,” he said.  “We can grow as a team together.”

                Specifically, guards Jessica Gilmore and Regina Simpson-Hobbs (both Jr./Dorchester, MA/English) enter as the additions with the loftiest expectations. The transfers from Bunker Hill Community College, according to Gould, have stood out early in the pre-season.

                “Jessica Gilmore and Gina Simpson-Hobbs have impressed with their athletic ability, explosiveness and talent,” he said. Gilmore averaged 8.5 points, four rebounds and one assist for Bunker Hill in 2006-07, while Simpson-Hobbs averaged 4.3 points, 2.2 assists and one assists for the Bulldogs.

                A versatile forward with range, Tia Nelson (Fr./Rockport, MA/Rockport) has also excelled in the early going. “Freshman Tia Nelson has impressed with her steady low post play and surprising shot blocking ability,” Gould said. At 5-8, Nelson presents potential match-up problems in that not only can she handle opponents down low, but also step out and hit the perimeter jumper.

                As for inside play, the Gators biggest addition in terms of size is 6-foot-1 Aponi Washington (Fr./Brockton, MA/Brockton).  On a team that lacks size – she’s the only player over 5-9 – Washington will be looked to in controlling the paint. “Aponi has the potential to be a great shot blocker and presence down low,” said Gould.

                Rounding out the freshman class is 5-3 Sivan Thammachak (Fitchburg, MA/Fitchburg).  A quick, athletic guard, Thammachak offers a change of pace to the offense and brings speed to the defense.

                 With a solid, young core of returnees and a talented cast of additions, Gould is rightfully excited. “We have so many girls who can handle the ball, shoot it and break down their defender,” he said.  

                As the several new faces mesh and coming together, he says the team is still formulating its goals. According to the coach, one thing is for sure.

                “I can tell you that no matter what our goals are, we’ll attain them by working together and working hard.”

                Pine Manor opens on Sunday, November 15 at Bay Path College before its home opener against Newbury on November 18. The Green and White’s out-of-conference slate is highlighted by opening the UMass-Boston Tip-Off Classic against the host Beacons on Friday, November 20 and facing Framingham State or Southern Vermont the following day. 

                The Gators pick up after their in-season tournament with a three-game swing through the Commonwealth Coast Conference, travelling to Fenway’s Wentworth Institute of Technology and Gordon College before playing host to New England College to close the semester on December 10.

                Gould’s Gators open the spring semester in GNAC play at Rivier on January 9 but are welcomed back to Chestnut Hill to a three-game homestand featuring Suffolk, Wheelock and Simmons from January 12-18. After travelling to Providence, RI to face Johnson & Wales on January 20, the Gators alternate home and away GNAC contests for the remainder of the slate. The team wraps up its home slate on February 16 against Mount Ida, hosting its annual “Pink Zone” game in raising breast cancer awareness for the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund.

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