School: St. Bonaventure
Affiliation: Atlantic 10
Coach: Jim Crowley
2011-12 record: 31-4, 14-0
The only thing that could have made last year even better for the St. Bonaventure women’s basketball team was completing a comeback in the Atlantic 10 Championship game against Dayton. And don’t think that loss doesn’t still sting the players a bit. Still the Bonnies had a magical season, going undefeated in the A-10 and winning 31 games. They not only made the NCAA tournament field for the first time but also made the most of their opportunity by advancing to the Sweet 16.
The encore will be neither as good nor as bad as people may think.
The team loses three key seniors to graduation — Jessica Jenkins, Megan Van Tatenhove and Armelia Horton. And just when the returning group of players had become comfortable with their new leadership roles, senior guard Chelsea Bowker broke her ankle and is out for the season.
That means three key returnees, senior Alaina Walker and junior CeCe Dixon (both guards) and junior forward Doris Ortega need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and make peace with the notion of failure in order to lead this season’s Bona team.
“Two things they learned from all the [former players] is that you’ve got to stay who you are but you’ve got to realize that if winning matters, then comfort’s got to take a back seat,” coach Jim Crowley said.
“The great thing about CeCe and Doris is they’ll make the plays but last year, they knew it was Meg and Jess. Now they’ve got to be willing to embrace that role and more importantly they have to be able to handle that failure.”
Ortega started 33 games last season and became vital in the Bonnies’ postseason run. She recorded her first career double-double in the Atlantic 10 Championship game (18 points, 12 rebounds) and followed that up with another against Marist in the NCAA tournament (13 points, 10 rebounds).
Dixon is the top returning scorer for the Bonnies, averaging 7.6 points a game while running the point. Walker started every game last season and was named to the A-10 All-Defensive Team.
Bowker was expected to be a key cog for the Bonnies this season. The 5-foot-11 forward has the strength to battle in the low post and also has a fantastic shooting range. Bowker ranks in the top 10 on the school’s all-time three-point shooting list while defensively she comes up with loose balls no one else seems to find. More importantly, she was set to take over the vocal leadership of the team after Jenkins and Van Tatenhove graduated. That was until she broke her ankle at the start of official practices.
Keys to success
It starts with the returning three — Dixon, Ortega and Walker. They need to step into new roles and they need to bring it every day in practice.
Why? Say hello to six freshmen. That’s a big class for any program, let alone one with a recent history of incredible success.
What the Bonnies need to find is their “bailout” player. In successful seasons, they’ve always had at least one — from Dana Mitchell to Jenkins and Van Tatenhove. Ortega and Dixon have that ability. They need to fully embrace and step into that role.
One of the problems of winning — it’s more difficult to schedule non-conference games. Yet the Bonnies have another aggressive schedule. Among the key games will be at Niagara (Nov. 12), at Fairfield (Nov. 20) and a matchup against Georgia in the first round of the New Mexico Tournament and North Carolina State (Dec. 30). Key A-10 games at home include Temple (Jan. 13) and Dayton (Feb. 21).
The Bonnies are not going back to the Sweet 16 and probably not the NCAA tournament. But they are good. It might be a stretch to hit 20 this year, but 17 or 18 is still possible.