Nov. 9, 2005
Worcester, Mass. - Holy Cross heads into the 2005-06 season as the reigning Patriot League champion, after capturing the program's 10th conference title in the 15-year history of the league, as well as making its 11th NCAA Tournament appearance.
The 2004-05 Crusaders posted an overall record of 20-11, marking the program's 18th twenty-win season, and the 16th twenty-win season under the direction of head coach Bill Gibbons. Holy Cross also dominated league play, going 12-2 against Patriot League competition, which marked the fourth time the Crusaders won 12 or more games in conference play while a member of the Patriot League. The Crusaders finished the season ranked first in the league in seven different team categories and ranked 19th in the nation in assists per game (16.8 assists per game), showing their strengths on both sides of the ball.
As a team, Holy Cross led the Patriot League in scoring margin (+9.2 points per game), assists (17.4 assists per game), steals (11.7 steals per game), field goal percentage (.426 percent), field goal percentage defense (.379 percent), free throw percentage (.754 percent) and three-point field goal percentage defense (.279 percent).
With eight letterwinners and three starters returning from last year's championship squad, the Holy Cross women's basketball team will work to continue its success in the Patriot League and look to contend for their fourth postseason tournament bid in the last five years.
The 2005-06 Holy Cross women's basketball squad will be led by senior tri-captains Shannon Bush, Jessica Conte and Sarah Placek. Last season, Placek started 28 out of 31 games for the Crusaders and averaged 8.5 points per game. She led the team in steals (1.9 steals per game) and finished the season ranked seventh in the league in that category. She was also second on the team in assists (2.6 assists per game), which placed her 13th in the league.
Placek also comes into the season with 810 career points and is just 190 points away from being the program's 22nd 1,000 point scorer. Should Placek reach the 1,000 point plateau, it would mark the third consecutive season a Holy Cross women's basketball player joined the 1,000 point club (Lisa Andrews in 2004-05, Maggie Fontana in 2003-04). Placek would also be the sixth Holy Cross player in the last four years (Andrews in 2004-05, Fontana in 2003-04, and Katie O'Keefe, Jeanette Paukert and Amanda Abraham in 2001-02) to score 1,000 career points.
Placek needs to average 7.0 points per game this year to reach the 1,000 point mark in the regular season. In her three years in a Holy Cross uniform, the five-foot-three guard has never averaged below 8.5 points per game. Her sophomore season, she averaged a career-best 10.5 points per game. Placek's career high in a single game is 23 points (Dec. 7, 2004 at Rhode Island).
Conte averaged 6.9 points per game as the team's sixth man last season. She played in all 31 games and made four starts. Over the course of her career, Conte has proven to be one of the team's biggest threats from long range. Last season, she finished the year ranked fifth in the league with a .365 three point field goal percentage, and has shown to have explosive nights on the offensive end of the court, which was highlighted by her career-high 18 point performance against Colgate last season. For her efforts, Conte was named the Winter Homecoming Game Most Valuable Player.
Conte is also strong on the defensive side of the ball and ranked ninth in the league a year ago with 1.8 steals per game.
Bush appeared in 30 games and averaged 5.9 points per game and 1.8 rebounds per game. She finished fourth on the team in three-point field goals made. Bush brings a unique style of play to the Holy Cross lineup, as she has the strength and size to play aggressively underneath the boards, but also has a soft shooting touch and can pose a threat from behind the arc. Bush has the ability to change the tempo of the game in a flash as she has shown to make plays on defense and convert on the other end by taking the ball strong to the hoop.
"Jess, Sarah and Shannon bring three different personalities and three different types of game to the table," said head coach Bill Gibbons. "However, they compliment each other very well. They have been to two NCAA Tournaments and they know what it takes to capture a league championship."
The Crusaders return a load of talent in the backcourt, despite the loss of three-time All-Patriot League selection, Maggie Fontana. In addition to Placek, Conte and Bush, leading the way will be the versatile Brittany Keil, who is expected to swing back and forth between the guard and forward spots. A junior, Keil is the team's top returning scorer (9.6 points per game), top returning free-throw shooter (.810 free throw percent), top returning three-point shooter (.420 three-point percent), top returning rebounder (5.3 rebounds per game), and top returning shot blocker (19 blocks). She was recently named to the 2005-06 Patriot League Preseason All-League Team.
Last year, Keil led the league in three-point field goal percentage (.420 percent), and was the only player in the conference to shoot better than .400 percent from behind the arc. And after losing almost 40 percent of the team's total offense due to graduation, there are high expectations for Keil and the rest of the Crusader squad to produce offensively.
Holy Cross also returns its top playmaker in sophomore point guard Laura Aloisi. A Patriot League All-Rookie Team selection last season, Aloisi led the team with 119 assists, which was good for second in the league (4.25 assists per game). Aloisi also proved to be as quick on the defensive end of the court as she is on the offensive end of the court after finishing the season ranked eighth in the conference in steals (1.8 steals per game).
After suffering a knee injury in early December last year, Aloisi is back healthy and ready to be the Crusaders' floor general once again. "Laura was slowed by that injury last year, but she has the swagger back along with her confidence," said Gibbons.
Aloisi's playmaking ability on both sides of the ball will be crucial to the Crusaders' success in 2005-06.
The Crusader frontcourt will have big shoes to fill after losing the Patriot League Tournament Most Valuable Player, Lisa Andrews. Last season, the six-foot-three Andrews led the team in scoring (12.8 points per game) and was second in rebounding (5.4 rebounds per game), on her way to earning First Team All-League honors.
The 2005-06 Crusaders will look to junior centers Kaitlin Foley and Ashley Brennan-McBride to be productive in the paint. The six-foot-four Foley played in all 31 games last season, averaging 3.1 points and 1.8 rebounds per game. She shot an impressive .470 percent from the floor and blocked 10 shots. "Up front we are excited about the way Kaitlin Foley has worked this summer," said Gibbons. "She has returned to us in great shape for the season."
Brennan-McBride has also improved her game this summer and will pose a threat inside with her six-foot-five frame and deceptive speed. She saw action in 17 games a year ago and shot .571 percent from the floor in limited action, but will be looking to contribute inside in a big way this season.
The Crusaders are also excited about the ever-growing potential of sophomore forward Ashley McLaughlin. An All-Rookie Team selection last season, McLaughlin has the ability to put the ball on the floor and shoot from the outside. In her freshman campaign, she appeared in all 31 games and made 11 starts, averaging 4.0 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. McLaughlin also shot .308 percent from three-point range, while showing signs of defensive prowess with 28 steals and 16 blocks.
Holy Cross welcomes three newcomers this season, including Pennsylvania native Jessica Pearson, New York native Jessica Merrihue and Illinois product, Kathy Gruzynski. Pearson will look to work into the backcourt rotation, while the two six-foot-two post players, Merrihue and Gruzynski, will fight for playing time in the paint.
"Jess Pearson is fundamentally sound and came from a great high school program," said Gibbons. "And the two forwards bring us some versatility in their games. Kathy Gruzynski gives us some power and strength on the block and Jess Merrihue has great perimeter skills."
Pearson led her high school team to a top 10 national ranking, while Merrihue brought her AAU team (Liberty Belles) to the 2004 U.S. Junior National championship. In addition, Gruzynski is coming off an impressive high school campaign in which she averaged almost 20 points per game.
Holy Cross will once again play a difficult non-conference schedule in preparation for Patriot League play. "The Patriot League is improving every year and there are many talented players returning this season. I expect another exciting league race this season," said Gibbons.
"Our philosophy has been to challenge ourselves by playing the best in our non-conference schedule. Again, this year we have four or five Top 25 teams along with some outstanding Northeast rivals. Getting Duke to come to the Hart Center is a terrific coup for our program and for our great fans!"
The Crusaders will play four games against teams which advanced to the NCAA Tournament last season (Boston College, Connecticut, Dartmouth, Duke), and could face up to six NCAA Tournament teams (Arizona State, Virginia), depending on the outcome of first round games at the Wells Fargo Holiday Classic (Dec. 2-3) and Cavalier Classic (Dec. 28-29).
"Overall, this is a big year for us. Last year, we felt we had to get back to the top and not allow the Holy Cross name to be off that Patriot League trophy for two consecutive years. But now we must validate that title in a challenging and rising league. This season will tell a lot about our character, as we have a "bullseye" on our backs and our work cut out for us against some talented league opponents."