YORK, PA - The York College women's basketball team enters the 2010-2011 season a dramatically different team. The Spartans won just 12 games with a retooled roster after the 27-3 run to the Sweet 16.
This year's roster is again dramatically different. Unfortunately for Spartan head coach Betsy Witman; one major subtraction comes in the form of a season-ending injury to three-time All-CAC guard April Sparkman. The 1,000-point scorer was injured during the preseason workouts and will miss the entire campaign. That injury will help kick start the youth movement for the Green and White. Sparkman was just one of three starters returning along with center Jaimie Sapp and Gayle Exley.
While Sapp and Exley will be key parts of the Spartan success this season, a large factor in determining how much the Spartans can achieve will be determined by the eight-player freshman class that Witman has described as one of the best in school history.
"I really like what the upperclassmen have brought to the team in terms of leadership," states Witman. "They went through some tough times last year but this group has come together and they understand what it takes to lead. For us to be successful they need to be great examples to their teammates and they have done that so far this season."
The upperclassmen will not only lead the squad but they will be also expected to play key roles on the floor for the Green and White. Sapp and Exley are the most experienced of the returners. Sapp averaged 8.7 points and 4.7 rebounds while she shot 44.2% from the floor and 63.8% from the charity stripe. Those are numbers that Witman expects to improve.
"With the talent we can put around Jaimie, she has the chance to have a very good senior year," says Witman. "She has the ability to get into position for high percentage shots and also get the chance to get to the free throw line with frequency this year. She has had an excellent preseason and I look forward to seeing how she can perform this year."
Exley returns after averaging 5.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game from her forward position. She is an excellent passer that fits in well with Witman's newly installed offense. Exley does a number of little things that add up to success for York.
"Gayle is a steadying force for us. She can shoot the ball and also has a great understanding of what we are trying to accomplish on offense," says Witman. "She is a very smart player and does a number of small things that will enable us to be successful."
Mitchell has had an outstanding preseason and will be a key guard for York. She averaged 7.3 points per game and 2.0 assists per game. She canned 28 three-point field goals last year and returns as one of the best free throw shooters on the team. Mitchell converted 83.9% of her chances at the line last year.
"Dija is going to have a very good year for us," says Witman. "She has been shooting the ball really well during the preseason and will play an important role for us in the rotation this year."
Byrne is a post player that can make contributions to the rotation. She has a soft touch in the post and has the ability to rebound and provide York with a defensive presence in the lane. She averaged 4.6 points and 2.6 rebounds per contest in her 16 minutes of play per contest.
"Caitlin can do a number of positive things for us on the floor and I look for her to be a solid member of the rotation this year," says Witman. "She has very soft hands and the ability to finish around the basket. We need her to rebound and defend when she is on the floor and I am confident she can do that."
Hudson is a post player that has seen limited time throughout her career but has come into the preseason looking to crack the Spartan rotation. Hudson played in 23 games last year, averaging 2.0 points and 1.0 rebounds.
"Val is certainly an option to crack the rotation," says Witman. "She is an experienced fourth year player that works very hard each and every day."
Lone sophomore Jenny Kaufman is the Spartans' sixth returner. She saw action in 16 games as a freshman, averaging 1.2 points and 0.9 rebounds per game. She is a high-energy player that is a hard-nosed defender and rebounder. Kaufman will battle for time in the Spartan rotation. Fellow sophomore Megan Lanigan suffered a second knee injury that will wipe out another season for the guard. Lannigan has been unable to see the court in her Spartan career due to the injuries.
"Jenny is a kid that plays very hard both in practice and in games," says Witman. "She is a someone who gives us another option in the back court. Jenny has continued to get better through hard work and perseverance."
One of the Spartans' nine newcomers is junior Brittany Percich. The guard is a talented player that made the team as a walk-on after spending her freshman year on the Kutztown University squad. Percich has put herself squarely in the mix for playing time in the backcourt. She is an athlete that can shoot and handle the ball while she is also a very good defender.
"Brittany has been a pleasant surprise for us," says Witman. "She can do a number of good things on the floor and I believe she can really help us this year."
Murphy and Wallpher are two players that Witman expects to make an immediate impact on the Spartan line up. Murphy is a gifted shooter that is also a well-rounded player while Wallpher is the prototypical point guard that can run Witman's offense. Sloan is another point guard that is dealing with a preseason injury that has hampered her development early in the campaign. She is a good athlete that, when healthy, could have a chance to contribute this year. Selby is a good shooter that has impressed the coaching staff with her overall play. Herman is a talented athlete that has really been shining on the defensive end of the floor.
Haley and Hicks will also play key roles in the frontcourt. They are both physical players that can score inside in addition to being able to defend and rebound. Haley is a true post player while Hicks can swing to the guard position to defend smaller, quicker players. Sloan is a true center with her 6'2" frame that has made steady progress in her adjustment to the collegiate game.
"The common thread with all our new players is they all have really good size and athletic ability," says Witman. "Another common trait is they all love playing the game. I am very excited about the potential of this group. They can be the corner stones to a highly successful run."
Witman is very excited to see how this squad performs once the lights of the season shines on them.
"I am very excited about this season," says Witman. "Losing April in the preseason was a tough pill to swallow but I believe that door closing will open the door for a player or two that may not have seen the floor as much this year which will ultimately benefit the program down the line."
Witman is very determined that this team will accomplish a number of things this year.
"I want us to improve defensively because defense never goes into a shooting slump," states the Spartan mentor. "If you look at successful Division III programs, the common denominator is defense. They make life miserable on their opponents' offense and that equals a winning team. I believe we will be athletic and deep enough to really get after our opponents. Another area where we will need to be improved is in rebounding. I believe that those two improvements will lead to us being able to be highly competitive and give us a chance to win a bunch of games."
The Spartans open the campaign on Monday, November 15 when they host Johns Hopkins in a non-conference contest. Tip time at Charles Wolf Gymnasium is set for 6:00 pm.