|Senior guard Rachel Collins, who has appeared in 75 consecutive games for the Fighting Scots, will look to help lead a Wooster team that averaged 60.6 points per game last season.|
After a five-win improvement from a season ago, The College of Wooster women's basketball team focuses its gaze on competing at the top half of the North Coast Athletic Conference table as head coach Lisa Panepento enters her first year in the full-time position.
Panepento, who served as the lead assistant from 2010-2015 before taking on the interim head coach role last season, expects to see a Fighting Scots squad that, at the end of the day, brings a balanced approach on both ends of the court as they look to compete amongst the best teams in the conference.
"It's easy to set goals – win-loss, conference-record, etc. – but before you can approach that it begins with holding each other accountable, coming together as a team and utilizing each other's strengths within a system that puts us in a position for success," Panepento said.
The Scots look to replicate last year's fast start after opening the season 4-0. During the stretch, Wooster averaged 76.5 points per game with one of them being a 12-point win over Geneva College, who the Scots face in the season-opener, as well as two down-to-the-wire one-point victories over Alma College and Adrian College as part of the annual Nan Nichols Classic.
On the season, Wooster averaged 60.6 points per game with an offense determined by the dribble-drive, a tactic Panepento is looking to move away from as she welcomes in a squad defined by athleticism, experience, and speed – something in which Panepento, a W Association Hall of Famer for her standout career as a dual-sport athlete in track & field and basketball – knows quite well.
"With the experience of our returners and the athleticism that our first-years carry in, we immediately have a more balanced offense," Panepento said. "All the seniors, they've been through the storms, but with that comes experience and it has served as a strong foundation for what should be a team that looks to compete in the top half of the conference table this season."
"The group that we have is fast, they can run the floor and do well in transition, and they are athletic," Panepento continued.
Two of Wooster's three returning starters are seniors, while the other, sophomore Anna Gibbs, comes back after having started all 25 games last season. Even as a first-year, the 5-6 guard out of Gahanna, Ohio made an immediate impact on the offense from the point guard position, showing a deft ability to get to the basket and getting to the line a team-high 134 times.
Last season, Gibbs put in a team-high 840 minutes, outpacing the next-closest returner by over 300 minutes, while averaging 11.2 points per game on top of 3.2 assists and 4.0 boards.
"Anna is a competitor and progressed very well throughout her first year," Panepento said. "After starting every game last year, we expect her to step into a more vocal leader as she looks to continue to facilitate the offense from the point position."
Returning alongside Gibbs in the backcourt is senior Rachel Collins, who has appeared in all 75 games of her collegiate career. At 5-5, Collins brings the intangibles – fitness, drive, determination, physicality – that a coach wants in a player.
Collins fills the guard position well, complimenting Gibbs at the point while serving as a solid scoring option for the Scots with intensity. After a breakthrough season as a first-year in which she averaged 11.8 points per game during the first five games of her collegiate career, including one 19-point performance against Geneva, the senior's scoring output has sustained while continually bringing the defensive intensity after coming off a 2015-16 campaign in which she averaged over a steal per game.
"Rachel never gets tired and isn't afraid to go after the ball," Panepento said. "She is in exceptional shape and practices with a strong work ethic that displays itself through her game."
Senior Natalie Coschigano rounds out the Scots' returning starters and headlines a Wooster frontcourt that expects to pose a formidable balance to the team's up-tempo motion offense.
The 5-11 student-athlete out of Athens High School has come a long way in development, especially with her performance in the post, according to Panepento.
"Despite having to overcome some injury issues, Natalie has developed significantly since her first year on campus and we expect her to grow into more of a consistent scoring role this year," Panepento said.
The veteran big made 20 starts on the year in 24 overall appearances while shooting .322 from the field (25-of-80) and pulling down 2.4 boards a game.
Returning alongside Coschigano in the frontcourt are senior Sydney Failing and junior Katie Mandych, as well as sophomore Christina Vukovich, who made a considerable impression among Wooster's posts with a 4.2 rebounding average in 20 overall appearances, including a 14-rebound performance against Oberlin College, with 10 of them coming on the offensive end.
Failing, a 5-8 guard out of Lorain, Ohio, comes off a 2015-16 season in which she made 23 appearances, including five starts, while contributing 3.1 points in just 11.5 minutes of action per game.
In a motion offense, Failing's high basketball-IQ is a treasure, according to Panepento, who expects the senior to have a breakout year in conjunction with her sound fundamentals and ability to read the game.
"Sydney plays with a lot of passion and has shown a lot of development throughout her tenure, and she has the potential to have a breakout year for us," Panepento said.
Mandych, a 5-10 forward out of East Aurora, N.Y., has molded into an all-around solid player for the Wooster program, embodying the notion of a highly coachable empty vessel as a first year before developing into yet another "high-energy, very coachable" player, according to the coaching staff.
"From Katie's first season till now, the improvement has been outstanding, and it's a testament to the way she plays the game and her attitude on and off the court," Panepento commented. "She came into the pre-season very fit and mentally prepared to work hard every day."
Two returning letterwinners, senior Danielle Besancon and junior Aki Shurelds, accompany a Wooster backcourt that will experience an 18-point vacuum with the absence of Hancher. As upperclassmen, the two add valuable experience – 45 games combined between the two last year – for a line-up predominantly looking to utilize speed and movement.
Shurelds provided an alternative scoring option early on last season, tallying nearly seven points per contest through the first six games before finishing the season with a 4.4 average, while Besancon finished the year as a go-to reserve after opening the season with a career-high 12-point performance against Franciscan University of Steubenville.
As for newcomers, the Scots welcome six this year, and Panepento expects nearly each and every one to make an impact on the upcoming season.
"With the incoming first-years, we got a lot more athletic immediately. I think we'll be able to push the tempo, run well in transition and be even more aggressive on both ends of the floor while going very deep through our bench," Panepento said.
"With the group of ladies we have this year, I don't see any reason we can't move up significantly within in our conference," Panepento said. "We improved a lot last season and had a lot of close games, so I'm excited to continue moving forward with this team and working to improve day-in and day-out."
The Scots tip off their season on Nov. 16 at Geneva College at 7 p.m.