After bowing out in the second round of the 2011 NCAA Division III championships, the theme for the women’s basketball team this season is 33 — the number of games it will take to make it to the NCAA Division III finals and accomplish their goal of winning a national championship.
Head Coach Dan Raymond returns for his 13th season and said he believes this season’s squad has what it takes to win the program’s first NCAA title.
“It’s one of those things where we truly believe that we’re at a place that with the talent we have — with the experience that we have — we’re going to be able to compete at the national level,” Raymond said.
Senior forward Devin Shea said winning a national championship is the No. 1 goal this season.
“It’s in the far distance, but it’s something that we have to focus on each day,” Shea said. “Every day when we come into practice, that’s what we need to think of.”
To reach its ultimate goal, the South Hill squad will have to first win smaller titles along the way. In the 2011-12 campaign, the South Hill squad finished with a 24–5 overall record and 13-1 in the Empire 8 Conference. Those 24 wins set a program record for the Bombers.
The Blue and Gold ended the regular season on top of the Empire 8 and hosted the conference tournament. The team advanced to the finals and won 43-38 against Hartwick College, capturing the Empire 8 tournament for the first time since the 2006-07 season and earning an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. The Bombers hosted the first and second rounds and ultimately bowed out in the second round with a 55-51 loss to Bowdoin College.
The Bombers feature 12 players on the varsity roster this season, 11 of them returners, while forward Kristen Gowdy is the only freshman. Raymond said this wealth of experience is a first for the program.
“We’re able to start our practices this year at a little bit higher level than we’ve ever done before,” Raymond said. “That’s kind of a disadvantage for [Gowdy] because we have so many returning players. She’s trying to catch up with us, and she’s doing well.”
Junior forward Jenn Escobido said having a lot of returners this year is a huge advantage for the Bombers.
“The chemistry is unreal, and with the experience we know what it’s like to get as far as we did,” Escobido said. “We know what it’s like to lose, and we want to get further this year. Just playing with each other, we know each other’s strengths.”
To accomplish their goal of lifting up the national championship trophy at the end of the season, junior guard Kathryn Campbell said the team needs to adjust its defense, especially after graduating guards Jessica Farley ’12 and Jacqueline Shinall ’12.
“We definitely lost some defense with [Farley] and [Shinall] both being tenacious players and defenders, so we need to step up there,” Campbell said. “We have a ton of scores, and we’re all pretty unselfish, so as long as we work together and don’t care who scores — just that we win — it’ll be a really good year.”
Raymond said a fun atmosphere combined with a diligent work ethic in practices and games made the season more enjoyable. As a result, the Blue and Gold felt like a family, and Shea said the team will strive to keep it that way.
“We have a really strong-knit team — it kind of has a family vibe to it — so hopefully we’ll be able to maintain our unreal chemistry,” Shea said. “We’ll hopefully maintain the intensity that we had last year and carry it over and just continue to play.”