High expectations for WNIT champion Drexel

Posted: November 08, 2013

A DEEP run in March can kickstart a program. The morale around an entire campus can change with one miraculous stretch of games during March Madness.

March and April of last season were times that the Drexel women's basketball program will not soon forget. The Dragons took home their first-ever WNIT championship with a 46-43 win over Utah.

"It has been interesting, it seems to be coming up a lot," coach Denise Dillon said. "Obviously we finished the year on a great run, winning that championship. That is what people remember. I talked to the team about what they remembered from last year, and they talked about winning the championship."

In the wake of last year's success, expectations run high in University City. Sometimes, talk of the previous season can hamper a team going into a fresh season, but the banter about last March seems to be helping Drexel.

"The end of last year was really amazing," senior guard Fiona Flanagan said. "Everything came together for us at the end. We worked really hard and worked as a team, and we were able to do something pretty special. This year it just shows us what it takes to be able to get to the level of play that we were last year, the amount of work."

"We are trying to get the team to understand that there was a lot that went into it leading up to that," Dillon said. "We know that we have to be ready for game one in November, do what we need to do in the non-conference games to prepare us for conference play. To put yourself in a position to play in the postseason. We remind them to take the proper steps to get there. We have also explained that yeah, the goal is to win a championship year in and year out, but we have to recognize what needs to be done from October to January. It is a very long season."

Flanagan, the only senior in the Dragons' starting lineup, will play a pivotal role. She averaged just 5.4 points per game last season, but contributed with the intangibles that come from leaders.

"Fiona Flanagan leads by intensity and by example," Dillon said. "She does a nice job in that everything she does is 100 percent. She just works so hard that it has become contagious for our young team."

"I want to be a really good leader," Flanagan said. "I want to help my team win in whatever way I can, whatever way they can use me. I am expecting us to be good."

The Penn Valley native says she feels comfortables with the leadership role.

"There is not much pressure because I was the leader last year as well," Flanagan said. "I am just carrying over what I did last year into this one. I think other people in the starting lineup are helping take the pressure off me. I am handling it by doing what I need to do for my teammates. My mentality is I will do whatever is needed of me to win this year."

For the Dragons to be successful, they need to replace two players in Hollie Mershon and Taylor Wootton, who accounted for more than 52 percent of the team's scoring last season. They did reload, adding four freshman to the roster who can make an impact right away.

"I am really excited about watching this team grow together," Dillon said. "We have so many new players that are getting an opportunity to step on the floor this season. In the past week at practice we really turned a corner. We are starting to understand why we do things here and what we are about, and that is absolutely the most rewarding thing as a coach, seeing the team starting to come together and playing together each day."

The Dragons tip off tomorrow at Toledo.

Local women's basketball capsules

DREXEL

Coach: Denise Dillon (179-135,11th season)

Last season: 28-10, 13-5 (3rd) CAA, NIT champions

Starting five: Fiona Flanagan (G/F, senior, started all 38 games last season, third in the CAA in three-point percentage); Meghan Creighton (G, sophomore, started all 38 games as a freshman, CAA All-Rookie team, averaged 5.9 points per game); Rachel Pearson (G, sophomore, played in all but one game last year, averaged 3.5 points and 1.2 rebounds); Sarah Curran (F, freshman, 4-year player at Archbishop Carroll, led it to state title in 2012); Jamila Thompson (F, redshirt junior, transfer from Daytona State, 2011 and 2012 Mid-Florida Conference Defensive Player of the Year)

Off the bench: Tory Thierolf (G/F, senior, started two games last season, but appeared in 31, averaged just over 9 minutes per game); Abby Redick (G/F, senior, played in all 38 games last season, averaged 2.4 points in 14.2 minutes); Carrie Alexander (G, sophomore, played in 12 games, averaged 2.2 points in 6.6 minutes)

Of note: The Dragons have high expectations after last season’s NIT title. They will have to replace four of their top six scorers from last season. They are a very young team that might have trouble with inexperience early on.

LA SALLE

Coach: Jeff Williams (32-58, fourth season)

Last season: 8-21, 4-10 (13th) Atlantic 10

Starting five: Leeza Burdgess (F, junior, transfer from Pitt, started 21 games in 2011-12, averaged 7.4 rebounds per game); Alicia Cropper (G, junior, transfer from Providence, started all 28 games in 2011-12 for the Friars, averaging 8.1 points per game); Khristin Lee (G, graduate student, transfer from Alabama, started 28 of 30 games for the Crimson Tide at point guard); Micahya Owens (F, freshman, sixth ranked recruit from New Jersey last year, averaged 16.8 points a game at Willingboro High); Siobhan Beslow (F, sophomore, played in 21 games with eight starts last season, scored 65 points total)

Off the bench: Jess Koci (G, senior, played in 24 games with three starts, averaged 1.2 points, 2.6 rebounds per game); Deja Bullock (F, freshman, over 1,000 points and rebounds at Triton High); Lisa Mintzer (F, freshman, ESPN HoopGurlz top three high school players in Pennsylvania, 49th ranked recruit in the nation); Jasmine Alston (G, freshman, All-New York City second-team honors as a senior at Bishop Loughlin in Brooklyn)

Of note: The Explorers lost all five starters from last year, including Big 5 leading scorer Brittany Wilson, but bring in high-level transfers. They were picked 10th in the A-10, but much will be learned when the new group actually steps on the court for the first time.

PENN

Coach: Mike McLaughlin (44-71, fifth year)

Last season: 18-13, 9-5 (3rd) Ivy League

Starting five: Alyssa Baron (G, senior, two-time Ivy League scoring champion, averaged 14.1 points per game last year in a school record 31 starts); Kathleen Roche (G, junior, started all but one game as a sophomore, averaged 6.7 points per); Kara Bonenberger (F, junior, averaged 9.1 points and 5.2 rebounds a game in 31 starts); Katy Allen (F, junior, averaged 5.1 rebounds a game); Keiera Ray (G, sophomore, Big 5 rookie of the year last season, averaged 10.6 points per game)

Off the bench: Meghan McCullough (G, senior, started first three games before a season ending injury, shot 40 percent from three in those games); Kristen Kody (G, senior, appeared in 28 games, averaged just over 6 minutes per); Courtney Wilson (F, senior, played in all 31 games, second in the Ivy League in blocks with 43

Of note: The Quakers return all five starters from a team that won 18 games last season, the second highest total in school history. They were picked to finish third in the Ivy League, but have a real shot at an NCAA Tournament berth.

SAINT JOSEPH’S

Coach: Cindy Griffin (222-158, 13th season)

Last season: 22-11 (4th) Atlantic 10, A-10 tournament champions

Starting five: Erin Shields (G, senior, played the most minutes on the team last year, second on the team in scoring with 11.6 points per game); Natasha Cloud (G, junior, started 29 out of 31 games, third on the team in scoring with 9.1 points); Kelsey Berger (G/F, senior, appeared in all but one game with three starts, shot 36 percent from beyond the arc); Ilze Gotfrida (F, senior, returning leader in field goal percentage with over 52 percent, averaged over seven points a game); Sarah Fairbanks (F, sophomore, appeared in all but five games, averaged 2.3 rebounds per)

Off the bench: Ashley Robinson (F, redshirt junior, co-captain for the team, averaged 5.2 points and 4.1 rebounds last year); Jessica Pongonis (F, freshman, averaged 11.5 points and five rebounds at Hamilton Southeastern High in Indiana last year); Lisanne de Jonge (G/F, freshman, played for the Netherlands at the 2012 Under-18 European Championships); Kathleen Fitzpatrick (G, freshman, career leader in three pointers at Academy of Notre Dame de Namur, averaged 17.4 points her senior year)

Of note: The Hawks have high expectations after an NCAA Tournament appearance last season. Even though they lost two starters, they were picked second in the A-10 preseason poll.

TEMPLE

Coach: Tonya Cardoza (84-46, sixth season)

Last season: 14-18, 5-9 (10th) Atlantic 10

Starting five: Erica Covile (G, sophomore, averaged 4.6 points and 4.3 rebounds a game as a freshman); Feyonda Fitzgerald (G, freshman, led Lake Taylor High to a state title last year, scoring 96 points in three games in the process); Shi-Heria Shipp (G, graduate student transfer from George Washington, leading returning scorer at 9.6 points per game); Tyonna Williams (G, junior, second on the team in scoring at 9.4 points with 3.3 rebounds); Natasha Thames (F, redshirt senior, leading rebounder on the team, 8 per game)

Off the bench: Meghan Roxas (G, sophomore, played in 30 games with 11 starts her freshman year, averaged 3.5 points per); May Dayan (G, sophomore, member of the Israeli national team since 2007, played in 30 games last year); Monaye Merrit (G, redshirt sophomore, redshirted all last year due to an injury, scored 1.7 points a game in 2011-12)

Of note: The Owls return three starters to a lineup that went 14-18, but are also switching conferences, which could be tough. Transfer Shipp will play a big part for a rebuilding season.

VILLANOVA

Coach: Harry Perretta (638-404 ,36th season)

Last season: 21-11, 9-8 (7th) Big East

Starting five: Devon Kane (G, senior, 6.5 points per game and led the team with 77 assists last year, started one game); Caroline Coyer (G, sophomore, 7.4 points per game off the bench); Lauren Burford (F, junior, third year starter, 6.0 points per game); Taylor Holeman (F, junior, 4.4 points and 3.8 rebounds per game in 26 starts); Emily Leer (C, junior, 5.2 points and 2.6 rebounds per game off the bench)

Off the bench: Katherine Coyer (G, sophomore, played in 14 games,averaging 2.8 points per); Kavunaa Edwards (F, sophomore, appeared in 21 games, averaged 1.5 rebounds per); Jessica Wamala (F, senior, played just 27 minutes all of last season); Jordan Dillard (G, freshman, 18.2 points per game at Decatur High in Georgia, will fight for playing time)

Of note: The Wildcats lost their two leading scorers from last season in Laura Sweeney and Rachel Roberts, but return enough talent to win games. Though inexperienced, Kane and Coyer make a dangerously quick backcourt, while all three forwards can step out and knock down a shot from beyond the arc.

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