By: Jim Sarkisian
Special to GoHolyCross.com
The 2012-2013 Holy Cross women's basketball team is approaching this season with the theme of "unfinished business," as it is looking to capture the Patriot League crown for the 12th time in the program's history. Last season, the Crusaders made it to the Patriot League championship game after knocking off top-seeded American in the semifinals. However, the team fell to Navy in the title game, 57-48, one win shy of going to the NCAA Tournament. That is why the team and 28th year head coach Bill Gibbons want to finish off what they started last year and once again get back to the top of the Patriot League.
Leading the squad this year will be its co-captains, senior Amy Lepley and junior Alex Smith. Both players started every game last season and will be big contributors on the court for the Crusaders. Off the court, the duo has shown a strong presence of leadership. Over the summer, Lepley hosted the team at her house for some team bonding to welcome the incoming freshmen. Lepley and Smith have also played a big part in getting everyone on the same page.
"Amy Lepley and Alex Smith are the two hardest working players on the team," Gibbons said. "And it always helps when your captains are your hardest workers. They are in the gym all of the time, watching extra film, and shooting on their own. So they are great leaders by example, but they are also great leaders vocally."
Joining Lepley and Smith will be eight returning letterwinners, including four starters, and five freshmen. The team will look to their juniors and seniors to lead the way, as they will make up seven of the 15 rosters spots.
Coach Gibbons also points out that the goal for this year is to be the best team that they can be.
"We have a saying in our locker room, 'first we'll be best, then we'll be first,'" Gibbons said. "I think it's important that your success is based on if you reach your potential as a team and become the best you can be."
The 2012-2013 frontcourt is the biggest both in size and in depth Gibbons has had at Holy Cross. All seven players that make up the front-line are over six-feet tall, with freshman Molly Hourigan topping the charts at 6'4".
Lepley will be the leader and is coming off her best season as a Crusader, after averaging a team-best 13.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game in 2011-2012. Her .499 field goal percentage ranked first on the team, and she was also second on the squad with 36 three-pointers made. Lepley was named to both the All-Patriot League second team and the Patriot League All-Tournament team last season.
Also contributing will be sophomore Emily Parker, fresh off a campaign in which she was chosen to the Patriot League All-Rookie team. Last season, the 6'3" Parker ranked third on the team in points per game (10.1) and second in rebounds per game (6.0). She also led the team in blocks with 38 on the season.
Junior Christine Ganser will play a key role this season for the Crusaders, after seeing action in all 34 games a year ago with three starts. She ranked third on the team with 4.6 rebounds per game and averaged 6.2 points in 19.5 minutes of play. Senior Kaitlin Cole and sophomore Clare Sullivan will also provide depth off the bench. Cole played in 26 games last season, while Sullivan took part in 24 contests. The two combined for 11.8 minutes per game in 2011-2012.
Newcomers Hourigan and Raquel Scott will also add depth and height to the Crusaders frontcourt. The 6'4" Hourigan is the only center on the roster as she hails from Memphis, N.Y. The Jordan-Elbridge product finished her high school career with 999 rebounds and over 500 blocks. Scott comes to Holy Cross from Ridgewood, N.J. The 6'0" forward will round out the frontcourt which will be much taller than in the last few seasons.
"We have a lot of experienced players in the frontcourt," Gibbons said. "You add to that with Raquel Scott and Molly Hourigan as freshmen, and it will definitely be a talented group that can both score and rebound. It's a versatile group and it's a deep group and it's something we are excited about."
The backcourt returns two out of three starters from last year's team in Smith and junior Brisje Malone. Both Smith and Malone played in all 34 games for the Crusaders and the duo started together in every game except for one.
A year ago, Smith was named to the All-Patriot League first team for her play as the team's point guard. She started all 34 games, averaging 12.5 points (to rank second on the team) and a conference-best 5.5 assists per contest. Smith also led the Patriot League in both three-pointers made (85) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.5-to-1).
Malone played 29.8 minutes per game in 2011-2012 with averages of 8.7 points, 3.6 assists and 4.4 rebounds per contest. Her assist totals ranked second in the Patriot League, behind only Smith.
"The backcourt is obviously led by Alex Smith," Gibbons said. "She is our point guard and was a first team All-Patriot League selection, but we also have some experience there with Brisje Malone, who has been a starter and a key contributor for two years."
Sophomore Ashley Cooper looks to be a three-point threat for the Crusaders this season, after she connected with 23-of-68 from downtown (33.8 percent) a year ago. Junior Kelly Hamner and senior Alexis Nicholas will add depth to this strong and deep backcourt.
The Crusaders also add three freshmen guards to their rotation for the 2012-2013 season. Lisa Mifsud hails from Erie, Pa., and was a two-time state champion point-guard on her high school team. Kate Gillespie is from Washington, D.C., and was the 2012 Gatorade D.C. girls' basketball Player of the Year. Rounding out the newcomers is freshman walk-on Jenn Walsh, from Dallas, Texas. The 5'5" Walsh is coming off a state championship on her high school team in 2012.
"With the three freshmen it gives us as much depth as we've ever had," Gibbons said. "It is something we are looking forward to for this year."
This season's schedule can be broken down into three different parts, all designed to challenge the players on the 2012-2013 squad. To begin the year, the Crusaders will play five of their first six games at the Hart Center, giving the players the chance to acclimate to the season without travelling on the road. Headlining the home-stand are contests against Yale (season opener) on Nov. 9, Boston College on Nov. 13 and Harvard on Nov. 20.
After that six-game stretch, the Crusaders will play eight consecutive contests on the road, including six games in the month of December. During that time, Holy Cross will take on the likes of Northeastern on Dec. 5, Florida on Dec. 28 and Bethune-Cookman on Dec. 30.
The third part of the schedule will be the 14-game Patriot League slate. With four schools coming off seasons in which they finished above .500 in 2011-2012, this is expected to be one of the strongest years in the Patriot League's history. Among the top teams in the league this season will be American and Navy. American finished the Patriot League schedule with a 14-0 mark last year, before the Crusaders ended their season in the tournament semifinals. Navy is the defending Patriot League tournament champion and was picked as the favorite in the conference's preseason poll.
"We think it's a real challenging schedule," Gibbons said. "We've got some great home games early, and then we go on the road for awhile, which will test us. But I think it will prepare us for a Patriot League that is top-to-bottom the best that I've coached in."