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SMC Basketball: Belles set to commence season

Ken Fowler | Friday, November 17, 2006

Tipping off the season with a new coach and eight freshmen, Saint Mary’s wants to look forward. If the Belles are searching for an opportunity to gauge their status, they need look no further than this afternoon’s matchup with nationally ranked Wheaton.

First-year coach Jennifer Henley and Saint Mary’s take on the Thunder, ranked No. 5 by D3hoops.com, at 3 p.m. in the first round of the Lee Pfund Classic in Wheaton, Ill. Wheaton finished 25-5 in 2005-06 and reached the round of 16 in last season’s Division III NCAA Tournament.

The Thunder return four starters from that team, including their entire front court of center Jill Trenz, an honorable mention All-American last season, and forwards Brittany Cooper and Elizabeth Fox. Henley is well aware of Wheaton’s talent.

“They are pretty solid all the way around,” Henley said. “Our keys to success is to control the boards at both ends of the court while trying to contain Jill Trenz and Elizabeth Fox. We must take care of the ball against this experienced team.”

For their part, the Belles have three key returners of their own – tri-captains senior Bridget Lipke, junior Alison Kessler and senior Stefanie Broderick.

Running the point, Lipke averaged 5.5 assists per game last season. Kessler led the team in points with 14.8 points per game and won first-team All-MIAA honors. Broderick saw limited action in 2005-06, but Henley said she adds valuable leadership to the squad.

“Bridget and Alison, along with Stef Broderick, have done a great job helping our freshmen with the transition to the college game,” Henley said. “They are doing exactly what they need to do as leaders.”

Lipke, Broderick and Kessler have seen Saint Mary’s improve markedly over the past few seasons. In 2003-04, the squad went 7-19, including 2-12 in MIAA play under coach Suan Bellina. A season later, the Belles earned an 11-15 mark and 6-10 league record.

Last season, Saint Mary’s brought in a new coach, Steve Bender. The Belles again finished 11-15 overall but their 9-7 conference record was the program’s best-ever MIAA mark. After the season, Saint Mary’s declined to renew Bender’s contract for undisclosed reasons. Henley was hired in July to take over as the third Belles coach in as many years.

“The team as a whole is very focused on what we need to do this season,” Henley said. “We are all looking forward to the tough competition we have on our schedule. Our goals are to improve upon last season’s success and continue to build this program.”

Depending upon the outcome of the Friday games, Saint Mary’s will play either Wilmington or Wisconsin-Whitewater Saturday to conclude the four-team tournament.