The sports world has witnessed countless occasions where underdogs win long before expected. That was witnessed by anyone paying attention during the 2006-2007 basketball season. That was then, this is now. Now a year older, a year wiser, and with a year of experience to their credit, this team is ready for the challenges that lie ahead. Last year they were the hunters. This year they are the hunted. And the confidence levels could not be any higher. With a team that has four returning starters and three key contributors from the bench returning, they have a tremendous amount of experience. And with an outstanding recruiting class now in the mix, the talent on this team is incredible. They hustle, they are talented, and now they are ready to start winning. Ladies and gentlemen, meet your 2007-2008 Lady Golden Rams.
Before you can fairly evaluate this group, you need to look at their fiery leader whom each and every one will look to for guidance both on and off the court during the grueling basketball season. Coach Dierdre Kane, currently in her 21st year as head coach of the Lady Rams, was raving about what the starters bring back in terms of experience.
Kane was equally excited about the energy the newest members of the team provide.
“I think that Megan Stewart has shown tremendous determination and savvy in practice and I think she is going to contribute. I think Dominique Adams has really picked up things quickly and also has a real good chance of contributing.” Kane said.
But while the freshman are getting the hype from their coach, Kane was also excited for a much improved returnee, Renata Neal, who Coach Kane expects to have an increased role in the upcoming season.
As excited as Coach Kane is with all of her new players, she knows the girls need some leadership and believes that the returning players are up to the task of mentor. Most notably Kane mentioned Catherine Andrews, Natalie Winters, Amanda Vitzakovich, Katie Kline, and Lindsay Weller, with Janelle Garber the next player to make the leap from player to leader.
One extremely valuable aspect for the team is that they are returning four of five starters. Katie Kline, Catherine Andrews, Natalie Winters, and Lindsay Weller are back and the addition of Janelle Garber in the starting lineup makes for a potent and exciting attack from the opening tip-off.
Senior forward Catherine Andrews, who has earned the responsibility of team captain understands what being captain means. Andrews plays a phenomenal game on the court, but her leadership skills are second to none.
“[I have] a lot of responsibilities both on and off the court. Making sure all the newcomers are getting all the plays, everybody is getting along; pretty much just keep team chemistry,” Andrews said.
Senior Forward Katie Kline, one of the most dominant offensive forces in the PSAC last year is back for another season and can see that the returnees are already ahead of where they were last year.
“We have a little bit better idea of what is going on and what coach likes to run in her offense, so I think all the returnees are a little bit more comfortable with what we are running here.” Kline said.
While the returnees appear to have things under control, you always wonder about the freshman meshing with the team. But with this team, you should not wonder too much. Be it the leadership or just the fun nature of the girls as a whole, the pieces of the puzzle are fitting together quite nicely.
“The team as a whole right now is an extremely close team.I think we are closer this year, great group of girls, I think everyone gets along. We have fun on and off the court which is key in this level of basketball. We have to trust each other and have fun at the same time,” said Lindsay Weller, one half of the dynamic starting duo the Lady Rams have in the backcourt.
Weller is a spark plug for this team but she has the company of another outstanding guard along side of her.
Junior guard Natalie Winters shares Weller’s excitement about the team being so close, but she also knows what her young teammates need to do to succeed.
“They need to look over their playbook, not to panic. I know when I was a freshman I had a couple plays that held me back. It takes time to learn everything and you are not going to get it in the first week of practice. So just relax and it will come to everybody,” Winters said.
Winters’ advice to the freshman may seem simple but it does work and one major example is how Janelle Garber earned her way into the starting mix in her sophomore year on such a talented team. In only her second year on the roster, Garber has earned her way into a starting role. She did not have just a big role to fill last year during the Lady Rams incredible run to the playoffs; she had arguably the biggest role to fill. Katie Kline and Dominique Lewis, who graduated last year, were the biggest offensive threats the Lady Rams had on the court last year. When one of them needed a break, Janelle Garber was ready for action. Kline is back, but with Lewis since graduated, the job is Garber’s to lose.
No one is more aware of what it takes to fill Lewis’ shoes than Garber.
“She was a great player so I am going to have to fill her spot. I have a lot of high expectations for the team this year and I am really looking forward to it,” Garber said.
The five potential starters are ready for action, but the team has more to it than meets the eye. The always-high energy senior Amanda Vitzakovich, who comes off the bench throughout the entire game, really injects some oomph into the team late in the game. She knows just how important that bench role is and she is relishing every minute of contributing to the victories.
“I hope I play strong and I just hope the whole team has a good season,” Vitzakovich said.
One member of the team last year who returns again this year is a player who the Lady Rams could not do without. She contributed to so many wins last year by out leaping taller opponents late in a game for a rebound, coming up with a huge steal, and making key baskets to ensure her team won. At 5’4″, sophomore guard Bridget Carlin has that intimidating basketball size and she knows it.
“I plan to dunk the ball a little bit and just help in whatever way is possible, whatever role coach needs me to fill in for,” Carlin joked.
Whether she breaks any glass while dunking the ball or not, know this: Carlin is not in awe of anyone out on the court, regardless of height. She is a fearless competitor that all championship caliber teams need.
So there you have it. It’s almost Halloween and the scariest thing on campus is not the costumes some students may wear. The scariest thing is how good the 2007-2008 Lady Rams expect to be. They will never back down from a challenge and will always watch each others backs. They will never let a teammate fail and will always play at 110%. They are tough, they are gritty, and they can ball. Bring it!
Mike Heiman is the color commentaor for Lady Ram basketball broadcasts on 91.7 WCUR. He is a third-year student majoring in elementary education. He can be reached at MH606613@wcupa.edu