Date Posted:11/13/2002,  8:00AM

2002-03 Women's Basketball Preview

BRUNSWICK, Maine - For the Bowdoin College women?s basketball team, the numbers just keep getting smaller. Not the roster size, mind you, but the post-season accomplishments. In 2000-01, it was the Sweet 16. In ?01-?02 it was the Elite Eight. In 2002-03 the Polar Bears hope to cut that number in half again with dreams of Terre Haute, Indiana, and their first Division III Final Four.

The good news is that head coach Stefanie Pemper returns all but one player from a record-setting squad that finished the season 26-2 the best-ever record by a Bowdoin basketball team- men?s or women?s. This year, the Polar Bears are ranked second in the preseason national poll and #3 in the WBCA Coaches? Preseason Poll.

The bad news for Bowdoin is that the only loss was senior captain Jessie Mayol, who was the Polar Bears? starting point-guard from the day she stepped on campus as a freshman in 1998. But with the returning strength of Regional All-Americans, senior Kristi Royer (Lewiston, Maine) and junior Lora Trenkle (Surry, Maine), the Polar Bears will again be a threat in 2002-03.

"A #2 ranking is generous,? says Coach Pemper. ?Last year if you looked at the teams ranked in the Top 15 in the country at the end of the year my guess is any team could beat another on a given night. Losing Jessie is significant, no question. Her senior year she provided us not only with key statistics, but her knowledge of our systems and her ability to get the ball where it needed to go was huge. Kristi and Lora are very talented basketball players and provide an 'inside/outside' threat that is as good as any in the country."

The front-court will be solid as Royer?s 14.0 ppg, 6.8 rpg and 50.3 shooting percentage returns for her senior year. Royer surpassed the 1,000-point mark in her career last season before over 1,700 home fans in Bowdoin?s NCAA win over Emmanuel College. She will be counted on this season to defend, rebound and stay out of foul trouble. Looking to support Royer up front will be junior Lindsay Bramwell (Marshfield, Mass.) who averaged 7.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per contest a year ago, and sophomore Erika Nickerson (Benton, Maine) who saw action in all 28 games as a first-year, and averaged 5.5 ppg and 3.7 rpg playing only 13 minutes a game.

Bowdoin seemingly has a legion of 5-11 and 6-0 players as seniors Jess Reuben (Houston, Texas) and Corinne Pellegrini (Canton, Mass.) will provide key experience off the bench, along with up-and-coming sophomore Maren Leuer (Long Lake, Minn.) and first-year Justine Pouravelis (Old Orchard Beach, Maine).

?Post play is a very important part of what we do and we have great leadership there this year, from the seniors to Justine,? says Coach Pemper. ?We have a lot of versatility in our depth. We?ll ask our posts to be aggressive defensively, to communicate, to control the boards, to run the floor, and to make good decisions with the ball.?

The backcourt will be strong as well. Trenkle, the NESCAC and New England Player of the Year, returns with her 15.4 ppg and 37.6 three-point shooting percentage, and will be counted on for defensive leadership and play-making. Sophomore Alison Smith (Stockton Springs, Maine), the team?s defensive stalwart, started 23 games last year, and averaged 1.3 steals and 4.6 rebounds. Junior Courtney Trotta (Sharon, Mass.) will look to take over point guard duties this season after playing in every game for Bowdoin last year.

Depth will not be a concern for the Polar Bears as juniors Kristina Fugate (Glenview, Ill.) and Beth Damon (Livermore, Maine) will provide leadership off the bench. Three talented first-year guards will also force their way into the mix as Lauren Withey (Rockport, Maine), Vanessa Russell (Tewksbury, Mass.) and Ashleigh Watson (San Luis Obispo, Calif.) will make their presence known right away.

?Our guard play will be interesting to watch; we will need our first-years to step-up,? says Coach Pemper. ?The ability to know when to look for something in transition or to get us into a set is difficult but critical. I don?t expect us to be polished right away but I?m confident we?ll get there with this group. Our guards are versatile, talented and smart; it will mostly be an issue of chemistry.?

The only team to have ever won a NESCAC Championship, the Polar Bears will look to make it three-in-a-row in the winter of ?02-?03. Highlights of the season include a home date against in-state rival Southern Maine on December 3, along with appearances outside of the region at the Skidmore Invitational (Nov. 23-24) and Cal-State Hayward Tournament (Jan. 3-4). Bowdoin will have a tough go of it, with only six home dates on the season and 17 scheduled away games. But the team is eager for the challenge of taking the next step, and playing late into March of 2003.

?We?ll take the season one game at a time as we?ve learned to do the past couple years,? says Coach Pemper. ?Our tip-off tournament at Skidmore is huge in terms of getting things going the right way. NESCAC is so strong this year with a very talented senior class; I look forward to every game being a battle. I love the women on our team and the unique qualities they contribute. They listen, they work very hard, they support each other, and they enjoy the experience. We are more talented than last year; if everyone accepts their role it could be one heck of a season.?