Do a little Dance

Cailin Brophy

If Connecticut is the Big East’s model of excellency in women’s basketball, then Villanova is its model of consistency.

In his 25th year pacing the Pavilion sidlelines, head coach Harry Perretta,has established a solid reputation for the Wildcat women’s basketball team, a team which rarely makes mistakes while capitalizing on those of its opponents. The addition of an extremely athletically-talented freshman class should allow this year’s team to use a run-and-gun offense a bit more, but let’s not get carried away – this is still a Harry Perretta-coached team, and will still look like it.

And, of course, the ‘Cats will continue to rely on their stronghold beyond the arc.

“We’ll still shoot the three,” Perretta said. “But we will be able to run more because we’re deeper, and I think we should take more shots per game.”

The depth of this team is one of its strengths. In fact, the bench is so long that Perretta is considering redshirting one or two of the five freshmen before sending them into the fray.

The decision of which and how many players will have to trade in the ‘Nova blue and white for red is a difficult one, and will be made for any number of reasons but not for lack of skill.

“We just have too many returning players to get everyone minutes,” Perretta said. “But the minutes that they’ll lose now they can get back in the end of their careers.”

The exceptional newcomers will add an infusion of speed and athleticism to a battle-tested and NCAA-tournament experienced core of veterans which includes All Big East first team selection Trish Juhline. Each freshman brings her own blend of talent and skill to the mix.

Betsy McManus, a 5-foot-six-inch guard from New York, should see significant minutes off the bench to help offset the loss of fifth-year leader Mimi Riley to graduation. Perretta should use McManus in a back up role at the point guard position behind junior Courtney Mix, who will be assuming the full-time duty.

Jenna Viani, a 5-foot-11-inch guard/forward from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., has skills and scoring ability comparable to Juhline and should see time off the bench as well. Allentown native Jackie Adamshick is a player Perretta can rely on in a variety of roles and positions, and should develop into a Mix-type player.

McDonald’s All-American Kate Dessart-Mager is arguably the most athletic of the class, while Israel native Liad Suez possesses the ability to contribute at any position and should see time once the NCAA clears up her eligibility issues that have arisen from her previous status as a foreign player.

The freshman contributions will be the complement to an offense dominated once again by seniors Katie Davis and Juhline. The sharp-shooting forwards were the main reason Villanova was able to advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament for the second straight year en route to compiling a 20-11 overall record. Davis averaged 10.5 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, while Juhline led the team with 13.6 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists per outing.

While Juhline and Davis led the offensive strike, junior Mix was the workhorse of the squad, functioning in multiple roles as back up point guard to Riley, as well as emerging as the team’s leading rebounder and defensive presence. 8.4 points, 6.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.5 steals and one block per game.

If the Wildcats are to keep their options open from long range, they will have to rely on a presence in the post. With the departure of senior center Stephanie Baker to graduation, those duties will fall primarily on the shoulders of fifth-year senior Nicole Druckenmiller. The reliable power forward will most likely be called upon to play at the five spot more than she is accustomed to in order to offset the loss of Baker.

Helping Druckenmiller in that role will be fellow forwards/centers Jana Rediger and Jeanine Johnson. Both players possess the height and long reach which could prove to be a valuable asset in the paint.

Perretta should also get valuable contributions from at guard and forward positions from Kelly Nash and Jenny Hilgenberg.

Both players added crucial minutes off the bench during the postseason run last year and should be able to continue to provide their added experience and skill on the court.

All the indications point towards another trip back to the Big Dance for the Wildcats, who have been picked to finish fourth in the Big East. The ‘Cats understand that this won’t be easy, but are as determined as ever to make another run deep into the postseason.

“We want to make it to the Sweet 16 this year; that’s hopefully our goal,” Druckenmiller said. “We definitely want to make it back to the tourney, so the Sweet 16 would be an added bonus.”

The Wildcats’ schedule will not afford them much room for error this season, and if they hope to dance in March they’ll have to take care of business in December and January. ‘Nova will be looking to avenge a mediocre performance in the Big Five last year, when they lost three of four games in the city rivalry. They’ll face tough out-of-conference foes in Ohio State, Colorado and UMass before they get into the grind of a grueling Big East schedule.

“We have so many hard games and all the teams are good,” Mix said. “We just have to be prepared to play every game and be ready to go.”

The pressure of making the NCAA tourney has increased every year and the players take it very seriously.

“It’s one of my goals and if we don’t make it, that will be a huge disappointment, especially being a senior,” Davis said.

If the last two seasons are any indication, Davis and company should have no probably making this season one to remember.