Participants in five of the last six NCAA Tournaments, the 2012-13 William Paterson women's basketball team will have its work cut out for it to win its third straight New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Tournament title this winter.
A pair of all-Americans in guard BriAnna Lucas and forward April Smith graduated following a 26-3 season in 2011-12, but 20th-year head coach Erin Monahan will have a core of three returning starters to rely upon this season, coupled with three other returning letterwinners as well as seven newcomers.
"I really like this group a lot," Monahan stated. "We have a lot of new faces, but the upperclassmen have goals and they are trying to instill those in the newcomers. The veterans are doing a great job of teaching and leading the new players, and the newcomers are seeing just how hard the returnees are willing to work to be successful. I've been impressed with all of the freshmen in terms of their work on their own to improve both on the court and in the weight room, and all of the guards are comfortable with the ball in their hands."
Two starters return to the backcourt for WP this winter in 5-9 junior Floriana Borova (Cresskill, N.J./Cresskill) and 5-6 senior Lindsey Callander (Branchburg, N.J./Somerville).
An honorable-mention all-NJAC selection after averaging 12.8 points, 3.9 assists (third in league) and 2.3 steals per contest a year ago, Borova can create off the dribble as well as step back behind the arc (.309, 46-149 in 2011-12), and her skills as a distributor make every other offensive player on the floor better.
"Flo is in the best condition of her career, and she has been playing great defense and doing whatever she needs to do for us to be successful," said Monahan. "She knows that, with BriAnna and April gone, she has to step up and be a vocal leader on the floor. For now, she will handle the ball, but she can give us minutes at forward as well."
Two-guard Callander has primarily made her living offensively from the outside, shooting 40.8 (29-71) percent from three-point range en route to averaging 6.3 points per game last season. Now more well-rounded thanks to her ability to drive and finish, pump fake and drain an open jumper, and draw defenders before dishing to a teammate, Callander will likely maintain her role as drawing the toughest perimeter defensive assignment.
"Lindsey is someone I just can't take off the floor," Monahan related. "She's been maybe the most consistent player on the team for her whole career, as she hasn't let down a single day in four years. She is a 100 percent team player, not interested in individual awards, but just in our win-loss record. She will do whatever it takes to win, and she has stepped up as a leader this preseason."
Junior 5-7 guard Kristine Jackiewicz (Quakertown, Pa./Quakertown) is coming off an injury, but has proven to be intense and consistent in her 56 career games, primarily coming off the bench. Seeing action at the two- and three-guard spots during her first two seasons, Jackiewicz may see some time inside this winter because she boxes out and puts herself in the right places defensively.
Sara Luberto (Midland Park, N.J./Midland Park) has been the most consistent freshman during preseason workouts, as the 5-6 two/three guard has been picking up the plays and has displayed a good outside shot, offensive moves and handle. A solid defender, she could help to take some of the pressure off Borova and Callander.
Jessi Corredor (Bergenfield, N.J./Bergenfield) is talented at both ends of the court, but the 5-5 one/two freshman guard may contribute more defensively at the start of the season while she becomes more comfortable with the offensive sets.
Freshman 5-4 guard Brittany Harden (Millville, N.J./Sacred Heart) possesses potential to contribute as a rookie, pairing excellent one-on-one moves offensively with the ability to rebound. Capable of handling the point, she likely will see more time as a two-guard this winter if she becomes more consistent.
A transfer from Dean College, 5-3 junior Yasmin Watts (New Haven, Conn./Wilbur L. Cross) can give the Pioneers minutes at the point or two-guard spots. Rounding out the perimeter group is 5-4 freshman Gina Ventura (Franklin Lakes, N.J./Ramapo), a hard worker with a big heart who could provide defensive help as a rookie.
A starter since the beginning of her freshman campaign, 5-11 junior Dana Jeter (Hamilton, N.J./Steinert) will lead a young group of Pioneer posts players this season.
In great physical condition following a productive summer of workouts, Jeter has always displayed remarkable versatility, a fact evidenced by her 8.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.0 steals per contest a year ago. The conference leader with a 1.4 assist/turnover ratio last winter, Jeter will contribute at the four and five and will do anything that is asked of her, from scoring to handling the ball to being the first down the floor on the fast break.
Ashley Marfo (Bergenfield, N.J./Bergenfield) made great strides as a 6-1 freshman last season, appearing in 19 games off the bench. "Playing against an all-American in practice every day last season really helped Ashley, and she is more confident now and asking for the ball," stated Monahan. "She has been working out on her own every day, and because of that she has improved tremendously. She can rebound on both ends of the floor, and gives us a defensive presence in the lane."
Sidelined by an injury, 5-11 junior Brittany Ennis (Lambertville, N.J./South Hunterdon Regional) could contribute at the three, four or five when healthy thanks to her rebounding and outside shooting.
Freshman 5-6 guard/forward Shakira Negron (Paterson, N.J./Immaculate Conception) could earn a spot in the starting lineup, despite being limited by an early injury. Capable of playing from the two to the four, her strength is on the defensive end of the floor, but she has shown tremendous offensive potential as well, and can score from three-point range, handle the ball and box out and rebound.
Freshman 6-1 forward Lyndsay Merola (Manahawkin, N.J./Southern Regional) worked diligently on her conditioning this fall, and during the team's first scrimmage displayed some solid post moves and willingness to call for the ball. Anxious to learn, Merola could contribute immediately in the middle of the Pioneers' defensive zones.