The York College women's basketball team enters the upcoming 2011-12 season carrying a title they haven't before in the program's history. Defending conference champions.
The Spartans return four of five starters, the Capital Athletic Conference Rookie-of-the-Year, and a 1,000-point career scorer that missed last year due to injury. That recipe is something that excites the reigning CAC Coach-of-the-Year Betsy Witman.
"What we did last year was great," says Witman. "However, I am very proud of how these kids have come back. They could have rested on what they have already accomplished but they worked very hard in preparing for this season. They understand that they have a huge target on their backs and they have readied themselves for that challenge."
Witman adds one key ingredient to her four sophomore starters. Fifth-year senior April Sparkman returns from an injury that shelved her last year during the Spartans' run to the conference title. Sparkman is a three-time All-Capital Athletic Conference pick and has been outstanding during the preseason. Sparkman enters the year with a career average of 14.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. She is one of the most prolific three-point shooters in conference history as she has converted 104 career threes while she is also good at the free throw line having converted 201 of her 260 attempts during her career.
"Having April back really gives another dimension to the offense," says Witman. "Her ability to spot up and drain the perimeter shot further spreads out the defense and gives us the ability to expose our opponents in the paint. April also doesn't get enough credit for how good a defender she is. She can really get after it on defense while she will also help us on the glass. It is great to have her back."
Witman is charged with helping Sparkman mesh with her talented sophomore starters as reigning CAC Rookie-of-the-Year Kristen Haley, forward Brittany Hicks, guard Kelsey Murphy, and point guard Aja Wallpher return in the starting rotation for York.
"They have blended very well for it being so early in the season," says Witman. "They are all very talented and they do a great job of feeding off each other."
Haley returns for her sophomore year after leading the Green and White in scoring and rebounding. The Spartans' power forward averaged 11 points and 7.8 rebounds per game as she shot 42% from the floor and 40.9% from three. She blocked 47 shots and added 25 steals in her 29 games during the year.
While she was very good last year, Witman believes she will be even better this year.
"Kristen came back to school stronger and ready to go," says Witman. "She had a great freshman year last year but really has the potential to be even better this year. Her post moves have gotten better and she is learning to become a better position defender. Her decision making has continued to get better and I am excited to see how good she can be this year."
Hicks came back to campus healthy and ready to go after battling some injury issues last season. She played in 26 games during her freshman year and averaged 10.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. She shot 45.1% from the floor and 63.9% from the free throw line. Hicks is a rugged and relentless player that has already earned a reputation for toughness around the conference. She had a stretch where she carried the Spartans last year as she gave Haley a run for her money for the Rookie-of-the-Year award.
"Britt looks great so far," says Witman. "She plays well with April and they click on the court. Britt has continued to mature as a player and that is only going to help her become the player she can be. She is so intense and hard nosed on the floor; it is a great quality that she brings to the team. She expects a ton out of herself and out of her teammates. "
Murphy finished her freshman year as one of three players to play and start in all 29 games during the year. She averaged 7.3 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. Murphy really started coming into her own towards the end of the year as she shot the ball well while she also played strong on the defensive end of the floor. Murphy converted a team-high 48 threes while she also shot almost 80% from the free throw line. Murphy added 54 assists, 19 blocked shots and 28 steals while she also averaged 32.4 minutes per game.
"Kelsey has continued to get better and improve her game," says Witman. "She is a very good shooter that continued to blossom throughout the year. Kelsey has the potential to be a lock down defender while I would like to see her work to get to the free throw line a little bit more. She should flourish with having April on the other side of the floor. Kelsey has worked hard to make herself into a more complete player."
Wallpher, the Spartans' point guard, returns for her sophomore year after averaging 6.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 3.5 steals per game. She started off the season slow as her numbers were a bit skewed early on. However, she really came on towards of the end of the season, as she was a key cog in the Spartans run in the conference tournament. Wallpher was on the floor for an average of 31.6 minutes per game as she was charged with running the Spartan offense.
"We asked a great deal of Aja as a freshman and she did a good job. It will be easier for her this year but I also expect a little bit more out of her. I want her to take care of the ball and make better decisions on the defensive end," states Witman. "She is a very talented point guard and has the ability to put her teammates in position to have great success. It will be fun to watch her run the show this year."
Witman is not without a quality bench in 2011-12. Senior Khadija Mitchell, junior Brittany Percich, sophomores Jess Selby, Loreta Tonuzi, and Megan Lanigan along with freshmen Taylor Santor and Tiffany Jantzen give Witman great depth at guard.
Percich, Santor and Selby are each currently in the frontcourt playing rotation while Mitchell is one of the most experienced Spartans on the team. Percich averaged 2.9 points and 2.9 rebounds in 29 games off the bench for the Spartans as she brings a great enthusiasm and love of the game to the Green and White. Santor comes to the Spartan program as a Harrisburg Patriot News Big 15 selection after her senior year at East Pennsboro High School. She is a talented guard that has perimeter skills while she can also get to the basket and finish. Santor has the potential to make a significant impact on the Spartan squad as a freshman. Selby is instant offense off the bench for the Green and White. She has three-point range while she can also knock down the mid-range shot. Selby has improved her defense and will have a chance play a key role in the bench rotation. Mitchell is in her third year in the program and brings veteran savvy to the Spartans. She is an excellent free throw shooter that can run the point for the Green and White.
Tonuzi returns to the Spartan squad after taking last year off to heal a lingering injury from her freshman year. She is a hard-nosed player that gives the Spartan great depth. Tonuzi has a nice left-handed shot while she brings a great intensity to the squad. Lanigan is coming into her first year in the court after missing the last two years due to serious knee injuries that have kept her on the sidelines. She is working hard in an effort to break into the rotation. Jantzen earned a spot on the squad after walking on to the team. She is a point guard that provides the Green and White with outstanding depth in the backcourt.
"I am very happy with our depth at guard," says Witman. "We have a number of players that would be starting in other programs. They each bring something a little different to the team while the mesh well with who is on the floor. I am fortunate that we have a number of great options in the backcourt."
The frontcourt finds sophomore Madeline Sloan and freshman Kailee Knight providing the Spartans with talented understudies. Sloan played in 22 games last year as she averaged 1.2 points and 1.2 rebounds per game. Those are numbers the coaching staff expects to improve as Sloan came back to campus stronger for her sophomore campaign. She is a strong 6-2 player that has very good touch inside 15 feet while she has greatly improved in her defense and rebounding.
Knight is a tough player from Crofton, MD that should have a chance to see significant minutes as a freshman. She is a player that does a little bit of everything. Knight is a good mid-range shooter while she can also rebound and play good post defense.
"We don't have a wealth of depth in the post but I really like the kids we have in that position," says Witman. "Madeline has gotten better and she will have a chance to get some good minutes. She could be a big force off the bench for us. Kailee has come in and been very impressive so far. She is a tough player that fits right in with the way we like to play."
Witman knows this year won't be easy but feels her team is prepared.
"This team has put in the time during the off-season to get better," says Witman. "They could have rested on what they did last year but they are the type of kids who always want more for themselves and their teammates. It will be different having the targets on our back, especially with a team primarily made up of sophomores, but I think they are relishing the fact they are the hunted instead of the hunter."
Witman also likes the depth of her team this year.
"We have so many good players that are also great workers. They push each other in practice and that will ultimately make us a better team. I am very happy with the level of intensity during the preseason."
"We have a schedule that will challenge us but will also prepare us for postseason play," says Witman. "I think our schedule will push us and make us a better team. We have good leadership and I am looking forward to getting the season started."
The Spartans open the campaign on Wednesday, November 16 when the Spartans travel to Baltimore, MD to face the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays. The Green and White open their home campaign on November 22 against Goucher College.