SPORTS

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February 16, 2007

In stacked UAA, women's basketball rookies learn fast

Most rookies in top programs see limited playing time, getting a sense of the new level of competition from the bench and on the practice court as their more seasoned teammates get most of the action. When women’s basketball lost a chunk of its roster and three starters to last year’s graduating class, the need for strong recruits who could step up to college ball right away was blatantly obvious.

Fortunately for the Maroons, a group of first-years has risen to the challenge and kept the program on track to become a league powerhouse. Forward Molly Hackney and guard Jamie Stinson have made their marks as part of the starting lineup, while Jill DiNucci and Anna Woods continue to bring a spark to the floor as two of the most reliable substitutes.

Joining fourth-year guard Korry Schwanz and third-year forward Nofi Mojidi on the court for the tip-off since day one, Hackney has added height and wingspan to the floor with her six-foot frame, complimenting Mojidi’s lightning speed in the post and Schwanz’s deadly accuracy from three-point range.

“We knew she was a special player when we were recruiting her,” head coach Aaron Roussell said. “You don’t see a lot of players like her, and we thought her athleticism would really fit in well on the squad.”

The East Lansing, MI native quickly secured her spot as one of Chicago’s top athletes when she burst onto Ratner’s court with 10 points and nine rebounds in her debut for the Maroons. Since then, she has spent the rest of the season proving that the near double-double was no fluke.

Besides eventually hitting the double-double mark with 13 points and 11 rebounds December 12 at North Central, the rookie has posted double digits on the scoreboard 11 times in 21 games and notched the game-high in rebounds seven times. Anything but a streaky player, Hackney has put up consistent numbers all season and even through tough conference action. Her 9.3 ppg is third on the squad, behind Mojidi (17.0) and Schwanz (12.1), and she ranks second in rebounds with a 6.3 average behind third-year guard Nicaya Rapier’s 8.4.

Putting her extra inches to good use on a regular basis, Hackney is also by far the best shot-blocker on the team and the most effective Chicago has seen in years. She leads the Maroons in the category with 1.9 blocks per game for a staggering season total of 41. In her fierce protection of the basket, however, Hackney has gotten into some foul trouble this year and has been forced to take a seat as a precaution. If she can learn to avoid the unnecessary fouls, the South Siders could have the makings for one of the strongest defenses in the UAA.

“She has a knack but needs to be more careful,” Roussell said. “Part of [her foul trouble] is just how aggressive she is. But she’s a difference-maker on the court, and we need to make sure to keep her in the game.”

After replacing second-year point guard Alex Leach in the starting five, Stinson has begun to show off her abilities, whether it’s driving to the basket or stepping up on defense. The Topeka, KS native and inspiration for a shirtless fan club stepped into a demanding situation with the Maroons on a losing skid and taking on prime UAA foes. Three of the past five showdowns came against seventh-ranked NYU (20–2, 9–2) and 14th-ranked Brandeis (17–4, 7–4), a squad that Chicago has gone 1–7 against over the past four seasons.

“She’s been a very solid player all year for us and had the potential to slide in there, and she’s definitely earned it,” Roussell said. “I knew that she would be a special player but just didn’t know when that would happen.”

While the move to the starting lineup didn’t dramatically increase her playing time, it tested if Stinson could handle going up against opponents’ first string. Keeping pace with her 4.0 ppg and 3.1 rpg for the season showed that she can take the heat as a starter and could possibly take over for Schwanz as the leading trey scorer with her .346 mark from beyond the arc.

“She’s exceptional at taking care of the ball,” Roussell said. “Offensively, she’ll just get better as a scorer. She continues to be one of our hardest workers.”

Last but certainly not least in this year’s outstanding first-year class, DiNucci and Woods are two of the Maroons’ strongest substitutes and help recharge the squad every time they’re out on the floor. Like Hackney, they give the team a little extra height, with DiNucci listed at 6-foot and Woods probably selling herself short at 6-foot-1.

In Sunday’s 69–63 loss to Emory, DiNucci showcased her ability to revitalize the offense with an almost automatic mid-range jumper that she’s developing as her patented shot. Every time the Glenshaw, PA native set up at the line, it seemed like Chicago had two more easy points coming. She totaled 11 points on the day, hitting double digits for the third time this season. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough to lift the Maroons past the Eagles in their comeback effort.

While Woods’s rebounds and points per game have dropped off a bit since entering league play, she is still a fierce force on defense. The squad’s tallest member rivals Hackney in blocking ability and could become one of the best at guarding the basket with some more time on the floor.

The fact that newcomers like Woods, DiNucci, Stinson, and Hackney have been able to contribute in big ways has meant the South Siders didn’t need to spend 2006–2007 as a rebuilding year. That is especially good news considering the squad only recently broke out of the UAA cellar after three years as a sub .500 squad from 2002–2004. The only question remaining is whether the Maroons can overcome their recent run of mediocrity and turn their vast potential into some UAA hardware.