Date Posted:11/17/2003,  10:30AM

2003-04 Women's Basketball Preview

Over the past few years, the statistics are staggering:

26 wins in each of the past two seasons, including a 52-3 mark against Division III teams. A 26-game winning streak at home that dates back to February of 2001. Three straight NESCAC Championships, including a 17-1 mark in league play the past two years. Three straight NCAA appearances and two consecutive 'Elite Eight' showings.

With a full arsenal returning from last season and a promising collection of rookies, the Bowdoin women?s basketball team, under the direction of coach Stefanie Pemper, is poised to retain their NESCAC crown and make another run at the Final Four.

"We have a lot of work to do," says Pemper. "We graduated one of the best players in Bowdoin history in Kristi Royer. We can replace her statistics; the question is can we replace her confidence, her consistency, and her ability to make big plays in big games. We have 11 returners who have to mature in different ways, and four first-years who have to work hard and buy in. We've achieved our level of success the past three years because we've played good basketball and our chemistry has been solid. We started from scratch November 1st and it's a long process. These women can do it though; I really like this group."

The class of 2004 will go down as one of the most successful classes of any sports team in Bowdoin's history. Since arriving on campus, they've led the program to its most successful three-year stretch ever, accumulating 73 wins against only 13 losses.

The focus of the class is senior guard Lora Trenkle (Surry, Maine), who enters the 2003-04 campaign needing 465 points to become Bowdoin's all-time leading scorer (men's or women's). Trenkle scored 417 points last year and will be the focus of the offense with the graduation of Royer.

"Lora is a special talent and a special competitor," says Pemper. "From the minute she joined our program she's led by example in terms of toughness and being focused. She's made herself a successful player by putting in the work, taking educated risks, and staying humble. The seniors are a colorful group that I admire very much. Wonderful young women who love the game and have a lot of integrity and pride for what we're doing."

By no means will Trenkle have to carry all the load. Joining her in the backcourt will be classmate and fellow co-captain Courtney Trotta (Sharon, Mass.). The emotional leader of the squad, Trotta started 20 games last year and will look to contribute in a variety of ways. Junior Alison Smith (Stockton Springs, Maine) was one of three Bowdoin players - along with Royer and Trenkle- to start every game last season. Smith, always a force defensively, will be counted on for more points in 2003-04, after averaging 5.9 per game last year.

Sophomore Lauren Withey (Rockport, Maine) came into her own towards the end of the season last year, earning a spot in the starting rotation and averaging nearly five points per contest, while classmate Vanessa Russell (Tewksbury, Mass.) provided instant offense off the bench, averaging 17.6 minutes per game. Seniors Kristina Fugate (Glenview, Ill.) and Beth Damon (Livermore, Maine) along with sophomore Ashleigh Watson (San Luis Obispo) provide depth at the guard position.

"We return our entire backcourt so if you believe that as your guards go, the team goes, we should have the talent, experience and depth to get it done," says Pemper. "Our three-point shooting needs to improve, that was our weakest team statistic last year, and our guards have to lead the way. Alison Smith has taken her place as one of our prominent players. She has a great basketball IQ, she works hard every day, and I don't think I've heard her make one excuse the entire time I've known her."

Returning at the forward position for the Polar Bears are three strong performers. Junior Erika Nickerson (Benton, Maine) was Bowdoin's third-leading scorer a year ago, averaging 9.7 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. Senior Lindsay Bramwell (Marshfield, Mass.) averaged 5.8 points per game last year, while Justine Pouravelis (Old Orchard Beach, Maine) was second on the team with 30 blocks and was named to the All-Maine rookie team.

"Justine has come out of the gate fast and I really think is giving us some confidence offensively and defensively," says Pemper. "Lindsay broke her finger the second day of practice and we may not have her until January which is a blow. Erika can have a big year. She's worked hard the past two years and has had some outstanding performances. When she's confident and composed on both ends of the floor she's as dangerous as any post in our league."

The unknown factor is what the first-years will bring to the table. Guards Katie Cummings (Summit, N.J.) and Julia Loonin (New York, N.Y.), along with forwards Eileen Flaherty (Fairfield, Conn.) and Kristen van der Veen (Duxbury, Mass.) will likely be counted on for immediate contributions.

"I'm impressed with how well the first-years have integrated; a compliment to them and the returners," says Pemper. "Julia and Katie can shoot the ball and really create with their passing and penetration. Sometimes I watch Kristen and wonder if she's for real. At 6-2 she can move, be physical, shoot from the perimeter, score down low, block shots, rebound, and she has a good head on her shoulders. Eileen is showing signs of being the kind of player everyone loves to have around. She's tough, she's confident, and she talks. Most first-years hardly have a clue how to play championship defense but I like where these four are at."

The Polar Bears consistently have one of the most difficult schedules in the nation and will enter the season ranked first in the nation. The team that defeated Bowdoin in the Elite 8, Eastern Connecticut, is the preseason number one. The NESCAC schedule is always difficult, and the non-conference slate includes games at Southern Maine, Franklin and Marshall and a home tilt against perennial NCAA-foe Emmanuel.

"The national ranking is a compliment to the program, our conference, and New England basketball," says Pemper. "It's been a great run the past three years. Each of those championship teams were special and there are memories that will stay with us forever. NESCAC is a tough conference and we worked our tail off to achieve those successes. The past three years when our seasons have ended I think we've been more sad we wouldn't be on the basketball court together the next day, and sad we didn't play our best, than sad we lost the game. That's what has to define us again this year: the journey and the camaraderie. As always our goals are to take it one game at a time, respect the little things, strive to meet our expectations, and have 15 people stay committed. This is the most veteran team we've had the past six years; I have a lot of faith in them."