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SMC Basketball: Belles finish even overall, in conference

Griffin Dassatti | Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Coming off a 12-13 season and returning only one starter, the Saint Mary’s basketball team came into 2008 with a large set of challenges ahead of it.

As the year wore on, roadblocks kept popping up for the Belles. Coach Jennifer Henley started the season on maternity leave, then they lost three key contributors at the guard position (sophomores Mary Lynn Carlson and Patty Duffy and freshman Liz Cronin) to injuries, and they had to play Hope, the nation’s top-ranked team in Div. III, three times in the course of the year.

“I think this team learned how to keep their composure and how to handle adversity,” Henley said. “There were a lot of times that things could have fallen apart, but this team stuck together. I give them all the credit, [and] I am very proud of how much our return[ing players] matured and our young athletes stepped up.”

Despite these numerous obstacles, the team rallied together to a 13-13 overall record, including an 8-8 record in the MIAA.

To what did Henley attribute her team’s triumph in the face of so many difficulties?

“I think we had great team chemistry this season,” she said. “And that was the heart of our success. We normally found a way to score when we had to, but we did have some shortcomings in our team defense as the season went along. We saw big improvements in our rebounding efforts, which was one of the areas we needed to improve prior to the season.”

Much of this rebounding came from junior forward Erin Newsom and sophomore forward Anna Kammrath. The two led the team with 229 and 203 rebounds, respectively, on the season, averaging 8.8 and 7.8 boards per game. The success on the glass was also reflected in the team’s season stats: the Belles out-rebounded their opponents 1039 to 993 on the season, for a plus-1.8 per-game ratio.

All of these combined efforts became very important late in the year, as the Belles were forced to make a three-game run to clinch a spot in the MIAA playoffs, which they did with home wins over Kalamazoo, Adrian and Olivet. No. 1 Hope, who beat the Belles 82-65 in the tournament semifinals, ended Saint Marys’ season.

Senior guard Alison Kessler provided a strong and consistent presence for the team, averaging 20.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 3 assists per game. Near the end of the year, Kessler broke the career scoring record, eclipsing 1996-grad Jennie Taubenheim’s old record of 1,533 and setting the new mark at 1,628.

Kessler was recently named MIAA Most Valuable Player, Great Lakes Region Player of the Year and a member of the Second Team All-American by D3hoops.com, all firsts for a Saint Mary’s player.

But Kessler’s efforts, while stellar, were supported by equally strong performances from several other Belles as four Saint Mary’s starters averaged over nine points per game in 2008 – Kessler (20.4), Newsom (11.3), junior guard Katie Rashid (9.9), and Kammrath (9.2).