Nov. 7, 2006
By Megan Cross
Special to GoHolyCross.com
The Holy Cross women's basketball team heads into the 2006-07 season looking to reaffirm its position as one of the top teams in the Patriot League. The Crusaders enter the season with a bad taste in their mouths, as the memory of their heartbreaking 69-68 loss to Army in the 2006 Patriot League Championship game remains fresh in their minds. And while some teams might be content as conference Runners-Up, Holy Cross is not one of them.
"The championship game at West Point was one of the best I have been a part of in my 25 years at Holy Cross," said head coach Bill Gibbons. "We played so well in that hostile environment. We played with confidence and we played to win. It was a heartbreaker to lose, but that game made us grow and mature as a team, and gives us extra special motivation to get that trophy back."
Despite losing almost 40 percent of its offense due to graduation, Holy Cross returns its top two scorers and rebounders, and six of the nine players who saw action in the regular rotation. With eight letterwinners and four starters returning from last year's squad, the Holy Cross women's basketball team is full of talent, experience and promise as it looks to capture its 11th Patriot League Championship and make its 10th postseason appearance in the last 13 years.
The 2005-06 Crusaders posted an overall record of 16-14, including a 10-4 showing in Patriot League play, marking the 14th time the program has won 10 or more games in conference play while a member of the Patriot League. Holy Cross finished the season ranked first in the league in three different team categories, including assists (15.47 assists per game), steals (10.43 steals per game), and three-point field goal percent defense (29.1 percent), and was ranked in the Top 50 nationally in personal fouls per game (19th), assists (47th) and steals (50th), showing its strengths on both sides of the ball.
Holy Cross was also ranked second in the Patriot League in blocked shots (2.67 blocks per game), assist-to-turnover ratio (15.5 assists to 18.1 turnovers), and three point field goals made (5.63), a category it also ranked 79th nationally. Additionally, the Crusaders ranked third in the conference in scoring defense (63.1 opponent points per game), field goal percentage (40.0 percent), and turnover margin (+0.33).
Last season, the six-foot-four Foley was the only player on the team to start all 30 games for the Crusaders. Foley was a First Team All-Patriot League selection after finishing the season ranked second in the Patriot League in field goal percent (52.8 percent), blocks (1.10 blocks per game) and offensive rebounds, fourth in scoring (14.9 points per game), and ninth in rebounding (6.1 rebounds per game). In addition, Foley also ranked 39th nationally in field-goal percentage (52.8 percent), and posted four double-doubles on the season, which tied for the fourth most in the Patriot League.
A Second Team All-Patriot League selection last season, the six-foot-two Keil also returns as one of the team's top players. Keil led the team and ranked seventh in the Patriot League with 6.2 rebounds per game, while averaging 11.0 points per game, which tied for 11th best in the conference. The versatile New Jersey native also finished the season ranked fifth in the Patriot League in blocked shots (0.76 blocks per game) and shot 35.0 percent from three-point range, which was good for seventh in the league, solidifying herself as a scoring and rebounding threat whether at the guard or forward position.
Keil's numbers are equally impressive off the court, as the Biology major/BioChemistry minor, was named as the 2006 Patriot League Women's Basketball Scholar-Athlete of the Year after posting a 3.96 cumulative grade point average. Keil became the sixth Holy Cross women's basketball player in program history to win the scholar-athlete award, and the second in as many years, as Lisa Andrews (`05) won the award in 2005.
Keil and Foley come into the season 263 and 364 points away, respectively, from being the program's 23rd and 24th 1,000 point scorers. Should Keil or Foley reach the 1,000 point plateau, it would mark the fourth consecutive season a Holy Cross women's basketball player joined the 1,000 point club (Sarah Placek in 2005-06, Lisa Andrews in 2004-05, Maggie Fontana in 2003-04). The duo would also be the seventh and eighth Holy Cross players in the last five years (Placek, Andrews, Fontana, and Katie O'Keefe, Jeanette Paukert and Amanda Abraham in 2001-02) to score 1,000 career points.
Brennan-McBride will continue to pose a threat inside with her six-foot-five frame and deceptive speed. The London, Ont., native, who only started playing competitive basketball in the Fall of 2000, will once again look to contribute inside this season. Brennan-McBride saw action in 12 games a year ago and shot 44.4 percent from the floor in limited action.
"These senior captains just exude a special chemistry and a focused and determined agenda to lead this team back to the top of the league and back to the NCAA Tournament," said Gibbons. "Brittany, Ashley and Kaitlin have grown and matured as players and as young ladies and I really feel that they are ready to end their careers on the Hill with a super senior season."
Despite the loss of since-graduated guards Shannon Bush, Jessica Conte, and 1,000 point scorer, Sarah Placek, the Crusaders return a load of talent in the backcourt. Joining Keil in the backcourt will be the team's top playmaker in junior point guard Laura Aloisi. A Patriot League All-Tournament Team selection last season, Aloisi led the Crusaders in assists (128 assists) for the second straight season, and finished the season ranked in the Patriot League Top 3 in a number of different categories. She was second in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio, and third in both assists (4.41 assists per game) and steals (2.07 steals per game). She also ranked third on the Holy Cross roster in blocked shots, while averaging 6.7 points and 3.0 rebounds per game. In the final two games of the Patriot League Tournament, Aloisi averaged 40 minutes, 13.5 points, 7.5 assists, 2.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals.
In just two seasons, Aloisi has already broken into the record books, currently ranking 20th (247 assists) on the program's all-time assists list. Anna Davis ('92) holds the program record with 659 career assists, while Veronica Jutras ('00) holds the all-time Patriot League assists record with 617 career assists.
After suffering from plantar fascitis last season and a knee injury her freshman year, Aloisi is healthier than ever and ready to take on floor general duties once again. Her playmaking ability on both sides of the ball will be crucial to the Crusaders' success in 2006-07.
"Laura had an unbelievable stretch run last season," said Gibbons. "She established herself as our quarterback and our on the court leader, and gained so much confidence in doing so. If she stays healthy, I really believe she will be one of the best guards in the East."
Now in her second year in the system, aggressive sophomore guard Jessica Pearson will be expected to step up her game, after appearing in 20 games last season and averaging 4.2 minutes per contest.
Holy Cross is returning its entire frontcourt in 2006-07. Led by Foley and Brennan-McBride, the Crusaders will also feature junior Ashley McLaughlin and sophomore Kathy Gruzynski. An All-Rookie Team selection in 2005, McLaughlin possesses a load of talent and will look to have a breakout season. Last year, the six-foot-one forward started 24 of the 27 games she played in and put up 3.6 points and 3.6 rebounds per game, while shooting 35.7 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from three-point range.
The coaching staff is also excited about the ever-growing potential of the six-foot-two Gruzynski, who gave the team quality minutes in her rookie campaign last year. The Illinois native appeared in 29 games and averaged 1.5 points and 1.1 rebounds in 6.1 minute intervals, while shooting 59.3 percent from the floor. Fellow sophomore Jessica Merrihue will also be looked upon to contribute in the paint this season. Following surgery in the off-season, Merrihue is expected to be back at full strength. The six-foot-three New York native has the ability to play physically inside, while surprising defenses with her long-range shooting accuracy from the outside.
Holy Cross welcomes four newcomers this season, including local product Tayana Carper of Shrewsbury, Mass., Christy Cushnie of Vienna, Va., Briana McFadden of Wheaton, Md., and Bethany O'Dell of Lincoln, R.I.
Cushnie, McFadden and O'Dell will look to work into the backcourt rotation, while the six-foot Carper will fight for playing time in the paint.
"I really like this freshman class," said Gibbons. "I like their energy, I like their desire to contribute, and I like their spunk to fight that they are ready to bring to the court everyday."
Holy Cross will once again play a difficult non-conference schedule in preparation for Patriot League play. "This year's schedule differs from last year's in that we get those archrival `big games' at home (Boston College and Connecticut). I like our two tournaments and I like that we have added two games (to make 29 regular season games)," said Gibbons.
The 2006-07 Crusader schedule includes two tournaments (at Vermont, at San Diego), 10 home games, and a game at the DCU Center in Downtown Worcester. Highlighting the schedule are five games against teams which advanced to the NCAA Tournament last season (Boston College (Sweet 16), Connecticut (Elite Eight), Dartmouth, and Army (twice)).
"As always, we are playing a challenging schedule with some of the country's top programs on the docket. You must play the best to be the best," said Gibbons.
"We want to be ready for the best Patriot League competition in my 17 years in the league, for that is our challenge; that is our ticket to get back to the `Big Dance.'"