SPORTS

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November 17, 2006

Talented women's hoops seeks UAA turnaround

Two years ago, women’s basketball shocked the experts by ripping their way to a 16–9 mark after three straight losing seasons. With their nucleus returning, they entered last November shooting for the stars—and everyone knew it. With the target on their backs, the women went 17–8 but only won six games in league play, falling repeatedly to better teams.

This winter, the Maroons are ready to play the role of Cinderella once again. Short on experience but as long on talent as any squad in recent memory, Chicago will kick off their season tomorrow hoping to sneak up on some higher ranked teams and make a play for their first NCAA tournament bid since 1995.

The roster features significant veteran talent, particularly in the backcourt where returning starters fourth-year Korry Schwanz and third-year Nofi Mojidi will captain the squad. However, beyond the starting five, the South Siders aren’t carrying many players who’ve had more than a quick taste of college basketball. But the coaching staff has been impressed at how much progress their tremendous freshman class has made in just a few short weeks of practice.

While there should be a few bumps in the road as players like first-year forward Molly Hackney grow into their roles, the Maroons should be ready to do some serious damage as the season progresses. The squad’s depth will give them a level of stamina that will be hard for even the most capable of adversaries to overcome.

“I really think everybody on our roster right now can help us, and I’m not as nervous about our inexperience as I was before practice started. Our freshmen are at a point when they’re going to help us,” head coach Aaron Roussell said. “I’ve told them to their face there may be times when we’re going to have to deal with some inconsistency, but this team could be really good.”

They’ll be at their best running in transition, and the women have been emphasizing getting rebounds to get that high-intensity offense going. That will start with good play in the post, keyed by third-year forward Nicaya Rapier. Rapier spent the better part of two seasons as the first player off the bench and then tore an ACL in her first career start last February 10. With her rehab complete, she’s looking better than ever and has reclaimed that spot. She’ll be down low with fourth-year forward Megan Prochaska, who will join Rapier and second-year guard Alex Leach as first-time starters.

Under the circumstances, it’s easy to see why the Maroons were picked to finish fifth in the league for the second straight year. The UAA sent four teams to the NCAAs last year and could be even tougher to get through this time around. The women will have some advantages over the rest of the league, most notably their size. They’ll go from being one of the smallest teams in the conference to one of the biggest, posing serious matchup problems for a number of squads.

“If we can compete against the top teams in our conference, we know where we can compete on a national scale. If we can make the leap, we can be one of the top teams in the nation,” Roussell said.

They open the season at home this weekend, hosting Kalamazoo in the Midway Classic at 4 p.m. Saturday.

X-FACTOR: THREE’S COMPANY

With Leach, Mojidi, and Schwanz all on the court at tip-off, there’s no doubt that guard play will be a major strength for Chicago. But will too many cooks spoil the backcourt? Each of the trio will bring her own unique strengths to the table, but it’s still unclear how symbiotic their relationship will be. If the three can find a way to co-exist and complement each other’s games, the Maroons will be extremely tough to hang with.