Last season, the West Chester University Lady Rams continued their success by making the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Final Four for the third consecutive year. After defeating the top-seeded Millersville University Lady Marauders in the first round, the Lady Rams fell to Gannon University. Head coach Deirdre Kane, who is in her 24th season as West Chester head coach, and her staff have preached one thing throughout the off-season and the early parts of the season: FINISH.
“Our players are extremely fit and focused,” Kane said. “Plus we are spending much more time on shooting so that we can ‘finish’ better this year. That was a problem last year.”
The Lady Rams were picked to finish third in the PSAC East this year, after finishing fourth last year. Millersville, who won the East last year, was picked to finish first this year. West Chester will use the underdog mentality to prove all their doubters wrong.
“No disrespect,” Kane said. “We did not get it done last year plus we lost some key players. We are absolutely going with the underdog mentality this year.we have something to prove.”
“I do not feel slighted being picked third in the east,” senior guard Megan Stewart said.”Preseason rankingreally doesn’t mean anything; it’s what you do during the season that counts.I think we will cherish the underdog role because it takes off some of the pressure of being expected to win.”
“It was a little surprising to see we were picked third, but then again we were picked first last year and I think that put a huge target on our backs,” senior forward Mary Kate Serratelli said. “We had some regrets on our schedule and lost to some teams ranked below us. I’m perfectly fine being picked third. We will definitely cherish the underdog role and prove at the conclusion of the season that we are the top team in the PSAC East.”
During the first five games of the 2010-2011 season, the Lady Rams are 4-1, and are shooting 43.7 percent from the field, and 34.9 percent from behind the arc. Last year, West Chester shot 41.7 percent from the field, and 30.3 percent from behind the arc.
The Lady Rams are led by senior co-captains Stewart and Serratelli. Stewart ranked third in the PSAC a year ago in both assists per game (4.6) and steals per game (3.3). She has eclipsed 100 assists in each of her first three years in college, and is attempting to become the first Golden Rams player to turn the trick all four years in school. Serratelli has started every game in the early part of the season. She is averaging 6.2 points per game and is looking to contribute any way possible.
“I just want to contribute in any way that I can for the team to succeed,” Serratelli said.
“Their leadership styles are very different from each other,” Kane said.”Mary Kate is VERY vocal – never hesitates to speak up. Megan leads more by quiet example – but she is so intense you cannot help but notice her.”
Joining Stewart in the backcourt is Allison Hostetter. Hostetter is the team’s leading returning scorer from a year ago, averaging 9.9 points per game. She also averaged 6.0 rebounds per contest. Hostetter leads West Chester averaging 15 points per game early on. Stewart is second averaging 14.2 points per game.
“Their intensity on defense and their ability to score in a variety of ways should pose problems for our opponents,” Kane said. “Plus they are playing very well together – they sense what the other will do and where they will be on the court.”
The Lady Rams will have to try and replace the leadership and inside play abilities of Janelle Garber and Renata Neal, who graduated last spring. Garber (11 points per game) and Neal (10.8 points per game) were the two leading scorers for West Chester.
“We recruit to try to replace people before they leave – we feel that we have four solid forwards inCarly Strickland, Alex Lennon,AmbreelinneOrtman and Serratelli,” Kane said. “They are all working hard to fill the void left by thegraduation of Janelle and Renata.”
“Janelle and Renata were both great post players but the underclassman got to learn from them last year and they are doing a good job filling in their shoes,” Stewart said.”We also have Mary Kate in the post and she has the experience that Janelle and Renata both had and she and Ortman both bring three-point range to the post position. Alex [Lennon] will do an excellent job stepping up as well. She has the ability to finish and her height allows her to be a great defender and alter many shots.”
“Janelle and Renata were two key players for us over the years,” Serratelli said. “Both had an unbelievable inside presence and contributed on offense a lot for us. The only way we can offset that loss this year is by utilizing the combination of our [power forward/center] players. All of our [power forward] players, unlike years past, can all shoot the three and handle the ball, and our centers are true centers and have the ability to dominate in the paint. I think we can create a lot of mismatches in the post as a result.”
Sophomore Alex Lennon, who is 6-1 and led the Lady Rams in blocks last year with 39, is going to be counted on this season to step up and fill some of the void left by Garber and Neal.
Early on this season, she is fourth on the team averaging 11.6 points per game.
“In leaps and bounds,” Kane said of her growth expectations of Lennon. “‘Stix’ has already proven what she can do in spurts. This year she will grow into a consistent performer on both ends of the court.”
Junior Jill Keefer, senior Dominique Adams, junior Shamyra Hammond, sophomores Meghan Kerrigan, Strickland and Ortman are all also expected to contribute this season as West Chester features a balanced attack.
The freshman class is also going to have the chance to learn from the experienced team and coaches in order to help the program in the future.
“SerifatJunaid was coming on very strong until she tore her ACL at our Rider Exhibition game,” Kane said. “She will redshirt this year and be back next year. As I said we try to replace before people leave and we have a strongpointguard inZona Smith as well as an athletic wing in Paige Elliott. Both will be integral parts of the program in the future.”
In the PSAC East this year, Millersville is the favorite, but Bloomsburg University and Kutztown University will make a run at the top seed.
“Bloomsburg and Kutztown will be in the hunt,” Kane said about the contenders in the East besides Millersville. “Shippensburg has some interesting transfers that could propel them back to the playoffs.”
Despite the preseason rank of third in the east, expectations are high for West Chester.
“We expect to not only match what we have accomplished in the past, by going to the PSAC final four, but we want nothing more than to win a PSAC championship and go to the NCAAs,” Serratelli said.
“Like every year, we want to win the east, win the PSAC championship, and make it to the NCAA tournament,” Stewart said. “However, we need to take it game by game and focus on what is happening now and not overlook any opponents. I personally want to end my career by winning a championship.”
The Lady Rams open up PSAC East play at Mansfield University on Jan. 12, 2011 at 5:30 p.m. The first home PSAC East game will be on Jan. 15 against East Stroudsburg University at 1 p.m.
3.WEST CHESTER (1)
LJ Harrell is a graduate student majoring in communications studies. He can be reached at LH639694@wcupa.edu.