2007-08 Women's Basketball Preview
Thursday, October 25, 2007
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Seniors Chelsea Dermyer, Ashley Haegele, Amanda Pierce and Delia De La Torre
Seniors Chelsea Dermyer, Ashley Haegele, Amanda Pierce and Delia De La Torre

The FGCU Women’s Basketball team opens the 2007-08 campaign coming off the most incredible season of any team in the school’s short history. Knowing that the athletics program would be joining Division I this season, the Eagles took full advantage of their last chance at making the postseason before a 4-year reclassification period began. Hosting the Division II South Regional tournament wasn’t enough, as they advanced to Kearney, Nebraska for the Division II National Championships. Led by senior Kate Schrader and freshman Steffi Sorensen, the Eagles magical run ended with a 61-45 loss to Southern Connecticut State in the National Championship game.

This season will have a very different feel to it. For starters, the coaching staff has undergone a major makeover, with former assistant coach LeAnn Freeland accepting the head coaching position at the University of Indianapolis. In addition, as a Division I institution, graduate assistants are unable to serve as coaches, meaning Bryan Crislip and Ebonie Halliburton will not be back working with the women’s team this season either. Head Coach Karl Smesko will be back, and he will have two new faces next to him on the bench. Nathan Daume and Ericka Haney both join the Eagles as assistant coaches this season. Daume comes to FGCU after spending the last five years as the head coach of Hutchinson Community College, where he compiled a 97-59 record. Haney joins the Eagles coaching staff after serving as the Director of Basketball Operations at Louisiana Tech last year.

Eagle fans will notice some changes on the playing roster as well. Kate Schrader, Alex Nelson, and Jen Conely graduated, and Steffi Sorenson transferred to Santa Fe Community College. Those four combined to average 46.5 points, 17 rebounds, 6.9 assists and also half of the team’s steals last season. Schrader, the Eagles leading scorer each of the last two seasons, as well as the all-time leading scorer, will certainly be missed. Sorensen would have been the leading returning scorer and rebounder, but she chose to transfer to Santa Fe CC so that she could be closer to her family in Jacksonville.

Much will be expected of Delia De La Torre and Adrianne McNally this year. They are the two leading returning scorers and rebounders, and if the Eagles are to be successful in Division I, they will be asked to be dominant inside the paint. Chelsea Dermyer, who served as the team’s primary point guard last season and led the squad with 4.5 assists and a 3.0 assist-to-turnover ratio, will need to continue to efficiently run the Eagles offense. In addition to the six returners there are eight newcomers to this year’s team. Jackie Thiel, Patrice McKenzie, and Lindsey Newpher are three new transfers, who all come in as juniors. Thiel, a 5-3 guard comes to the Eagles from Odessa College, where she helped them win the National Junior College Athletic Association National Championship, averaging 5.3 points, 1.7 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.7 steals. McKenzie, a 6-0 forward comes to FGCU from Dodge City Community College. The New Zealand native averaged 14.8 points and 10 rebounds last season, earning her Honorable Mention All-Conference in the Jayhawk league. Newpher, a 5-9 forward joins the Eagles after spending two seasons at Kansas City Kansas Community College. She averaged 11.2 points in her final 11 games last year after suffering an injury early in the season.

Incoming freshman this year include 5-11 Kristine Herman, who earned First Team All-League as a junior and senior at Granada High School in San Ramon, Ca.; Diana Jacklin, a 6-0 forward who earned All-Conference honors at Morton West High School in Berwyn, Ill.; Bri Zabel, the all-time leading scorer at Northfield High School in Northfield, Minn, who earned All-Conference as a sophomore, junior and senior, as well as All-State honorable mention as a junior and senior; Shannon Murphy, a 5-7 guard who was named All-State at Brighton High School in Brighton, Mich.; and Madeleine Doyle, a 6-1 forward who was Second Team All-State at Gobles High School in Gobles, Mich. after averaging 17.9 points and 14.9 rebounds her senior season.

Besides the personnel changes on the coaching staff as well as the playing roster, there will be another noticeable difference this year. This year the Eagles have moved from NCAA Division II to Division I, and are now a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference. This move will be most evident to Eagle fans in terms of the opponents that the Eagles face. Last year, the Eagles opened the season against the University of West Florida, followed by four consecutive games against branches of the University of Puerto Rico. The closest result of the four Puerto Rico games was 85-30. In contrast, this year the Eagles will open the season at home against Florida State University. The road schedule includes a trip to Gainesville to take on the Gators and to Orlando to take on Central Florida. In addition to the exciting non-conference games, FGCU will be competing in a conference for the first time. So even though the conference tournament, like the NCAA tournament, is not a possibility for a few years, the Eagles have an opportunity to win a regular season conference title, something they have never had an opportunity to do before. The A-Sun coach’s preseason ranking placed the Eagles 10th of the twelve member schools. The media, however, projects FGCU to finish 6th, and the Eagles were one of four schools to receive a first-place vote. Last season, the Eagles were picked 19th in the preseason USA Today/ESPN Coaches’ Poll, and they finished the season as national runner-up with school record 34 wins. This year, the coaches are different, the players are different, the opponents are much different, but the basic goal is still the same. Coach Smesko and the Eagles want to win basketball games. In fact, after compiling a 132-21 record in their five seasons, the Eagles don’t know what it’s like to not win a lot of basketball games, and this year, they hope to continue that success.