After losing two of its top scorers, and arguably best leaders, to graduation, it would be easy for the SUNY Potsdam women’s basketball team to be a little worried heading into the 2010-11 season.
On the other hand, sixth-year coach Tara Ruckh and the Bears could embrace the challenge of replacing three-time all-conference performer Cortney Poirier and 1000-point club member Rachel Graf.
Ruckh is inclined to pick option No. 2 with this year’s squad, which she believes is more competitive and more talented than the 2009-10 team, which posted an 8-18 record, including a 7-11 mark in State University of New York Athletic Conference play.
“We had a couple of productive players with Cortney and Rachel,” Ruckh said. “Sometimes, you kind of fall into a trap expecting those people to be the ones to do everything all the time. We’re missing a couple of key components to our program … it’s exciting to find out who’s next, not only as a leader on the court.
“It’s challenging to our players, and I think they like that.”
One of the main goals of the team, Ruckh said, is to finish in the top half of the SUNYAC standings and get a home game in the conference tournament quarterfinals. Last season, the Bears went to New Paltz for the first round and saw their season come to an end.
While the goal is always to win the conference, Ruckh stressed getting out of the bottom half of the league as an important step toward a SUNYAC title.
“There’s more parity in the conference than there has been in the past years,” Ruckh said. “Last year, there was a top eight which was pretty even. Now we need to start beating the teams that we haven’t been beating consistently so we’re putting ourselves in a top four situation.”
From a leadership standpoint, Ruckh will look to Aimee Kellicutt and Brittany Whitton, the team’s two seniors. She also mentioned junior Kaley Arsenault and sophomore Taylor Bacon as players who have taken on different leadership roles.
“I think Aimee is a natural leader, because she’s our point guard and she has to be,” Ruckh said. “Brittany is a leader emotionally. She brings a lot of energy, and we feed off that.”
Ruckh said the team won’t select captains until the weekend prior to the season opener, as she’d like to see who the players look to for guidance when challenges arise during preseason action.
Whitton, a third-year senior from De Kalb, N.Y., averaged 10.2 points and 3.9 rebounds in 2009-10. She led the team with 35 3-pointers made, and finished second in total rebounds (102) and steals (44).
“Brittany’s energy is endless,” Ruckh said. “She could play 40 minutes in a game, then play another 40 after that. She’s tireless … you can count on her for some speed as well.”
Kellicutt will run the point guard spot for the Bears. The Lisle, N.Y., native led the Bears in 3-point field goal percentage (.483) and finished second in points per game (11.9), rebounds per game (4.1), field goal percentage (.425), free throw percentage (.750) and 3-point percentage (.483).
“Amy is our general,” Ruckh said. “She controls everything out there, and can create for others and herself. She needs to make sure and take the shots she should be taking when she’s open. She’s a grinder defensively.”
A Canton, N.Y., native, sophomore Katy Briedis is a physical guard who will look to create off the dribble. She is evolving into a leader on the floor, Ruckh said.
Junior Stephanie Marcotte (Willsboro, N.Y.), who played in 20 games in 2009-10, is a shooter and a smart player. Sophomore Taylor Bacon (Massena, N.Y.) returns from a season-ending knee injury and is also an intelligent player and 3-point threat.
Freshmen Jessica Dailey (Evans Mills, N.Y.) and Hannah Kmiecinski (Webster, N.Y.) also look to compete for time on the floor. Dailey likes to create for others and is a deceivingly good finisher near the rim, while Kmiecinski is a left-handed shooter with good court vision.
In the frontcourt, juniors Kaley Arsenault (6-foot) and Sophie Parks (5-10) return as the team’s most experienced players.
In 2009-10, Arsenault (Syracuse, N.Y.) started all 26 games and averaged 4.6 points and 3.6 rebounds per contest. She is a physical presence in the paint who thrives on solid post positioning.
“Kaley has been working on being consistent in the post and has developed a bit of a 15-footer, which she’s not timid about taking,” Ruckh said. “She’s going to continue to get better.”
Parks averaged 3.2 points and 3.7 rebounds in 26 games. The Bogart, Ga., native has good footwork and a decent shot out of the post.
“Sophie is so methodical when she catches it in the post, so now we’re working on getting her quicker,” Ruckh said. “Defensively, she’s been quicker with her feet.”
Freshman Jessica Kouzan (Webster, N.Y.) will look to contribute immediately as a post player who has the skills to be on the perimeter.
“Jessica can hit 3s and she has great footwork inside,” Ruckh said. “She could be someone who could be a special player.”
Junior Alicia Bradberry (Sandy Creek, N.Y.) and sophomore Adedoyin Akingba (Brooklyn, N.Y.) will also battle for spots in the rotation. Bradberry is a physical player who will work on consistency around the basket, while Akingba, who saw time in 24 games a year ago, is a solid athlete and good rebounder.
In addition to the team’s 18-game SUNYAC slate, the Bears’ non-conference schedule is comprised of what Ruckh believes is a good mix of regionally and nationally competitive teams and local institutions. Potsdam opens with Utica on Nov. 15 at home, and then plays consecutive home games against North Country rivals St. Lawrence (Nov. 17) and SUNY Canton (Nov. 19).
The remainder of the team’s non-league slate is on the road, against Ithaca (Nov. 28), cross-town foe Clarkson (Nov. 30), Skidmore (Dec. 7) and perennial national contender William Smith (Jan. 4).
“We try to pack our non-league schedule not only to prepare us for our conference, but if there’s an opportunity for us to get an at-large bid (to the NCAA Tournament), if we’re beating some of the opponents we’re playing, our strength of schedule looks really good,” Ruckh said.
The Bears open SUNYAC play on Dec. 3-4 against Oneonta and New Paltz, two of the league’s top finishers a year ago. Potsdam takes on defending conference champion Cortland on the road Jan. 15, and hosts the Red Dragons on Feb. 11.