Expecting to receive schedules, equipment ordering information, and weight training pairings, the women’s basketball team sat stunned in last Thursday afternoon’s meeting when head coach Jennifer Kroll announced her resignation, accepting the head coaching job at Division-III St. Lawrence. Although some members of the team weren’t completely sure whether the surprise announcement was part of an elaborate prank, Kroll left the meeting and athletic director Tom Weingartner confirmed the news.
“A lot of people were upset that she was leaving because we like her. And mixed in with that was just the shock of being left two weeks before [practice] is supposed to start,” third-year captain Susie Gutowski said. “I don’t think anyone saw this one coming.”
Kroll went through ups and downs in her four-year tenure with the Maroons, ranging from the 15-9, nationally ranked 2000-01 team to more recent rebuilding efforts. With a solid core of her own recruitsthe UAA’s last two Rookie of the Year award winners Gutowski and second-year Korry Schwanz, in addition to speedy third-year shooting guard Janae Winnernow leading the team for the first time, Kroll still made the difficult decision to move eastward.
“I accepted the position at St. Lawrence because it is a solid D-III program that has a proven record of success, having made it to the championship game two years ago,” said Kroll, a former coach at Ithaca College. “It is a great opportunity for me professionally as well as personally. I have family in New York, and this gets me closer to them.
“It was a hard decision to accept the offer because of my ties to the current team at Chicago. We have made many strides in recruiting in addition to developing leaders from the current squad. Those leaders are ready to take the next step competitively. I have the greatest amount of respect for the players on our team and wish them the best.”
Just two weeks away from their first practice, the young, up-and-coming women’s basketball now turns to newcomer Aaron Roussell, who was hired in August as the team’s assistant coach and chief recruiter. A Minnesota State University-Mankato assistant coach the past two years, Roussell has brought his own energetic tempo to the Maroons even before formally starting practices with the team. Combined with the changing of the guard on the court, the changeover to Roussell on an interim basis promisesat the very leasta new brand of basketball.
“I think every successful team needs an identity. My hope is that when people think of us they will think of us as a tough’ team,” said Roussell, who learned of his new position just hours before the players did. “We may be undersized and we may struggle some on the boards, but toughness can go a long way in covering up any size disadvantages.
“I also see quickness as being a tremendous asset on this team. We will use that to our advantage and hopefully be able to play an exciting brand of basketball. Again, we may be undersized, but hopefully we can find ways to take advantage of this on the offensive end of the floor.”
“Hard working and focused” with a “really great, positive attitude,” according to Gutowski, Roussell has been working late nights in his office since arriving at Chicago, and he continued his preparation this past weekend.
His preferred style of more open, basic type of playingas opposed to Kroll’s more mechanical, planned offensecould create plenty of scoring opportunities. Setting screens and reacting to the defense should free the offense to be more creative than in years past.
Yet style of play wasn’t necessarily the only inhibiting factor in previous years, as team conflicts sometimes exacerbated an already grueling season. As much or as little effect as a coach can have on team chemistry, Gutowski, Winner, and the rest of the team’s leaders are seizing the opportunity left by the coaching change to set a new feeling in the clubhouse this season.
“The older girls and myself have really tried to focus on team togetherness this year. It’s not that we ever sat down and talked about it as a strategy, but we just all understand the importance of that,” Gutowski said. “We had so many problems in the past with team divisions that affected how we played, and that’s not going to happen again.”
When Kroll chose Roussell this summer, she noted that commitment and basketball knowledge. Leaving the team that she built, she has confidence in the team’s leadership and young talent. Most of all, Kroll feels that Roussell’s character and basketball know-how will provide a sort of steadiness even with the late shakeup.
“Coach Roussell will bring a passion for the game. He is a very accomplished recruiter as well as a steady presence for the team,” she said. “His work ethic is outstanding. I think that the players will respect him immediately as he is very mature and knowledgeable. We got really lucky when we hired him.”
Weingartner plans to carry out a nationwide search in February 2005, immediately following the season. Despite the praise coming from all ends for Roussell, he could be out of the head coaching position as soon as he was in it.
On the other hand, his work ethic and recognition of the College as “one of the finest institutions in the world” and his new position “one of the best jobs in the country” has provided his team with its most optimistic start in recent memory.
“My expectation is to win the first game; then we can go from there. I do have high expectations for everyone on this roster, as I am sure they do of themselves,” he said. “We will work too hard to not have high expectations.”