By Joseph Phelan, Assistant Sports Editor, @jphelan13
Last year happened—St. Bonaventure won 31 games, the Atlantic 10 regular season championship and advanced to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen, but as great as it was, it is now only a sweet memory.
Jessica Jenkins, Megan Van Tatenhove, Armelia Horton and Jennie Ashton have graduated. It is a new chapter in St. Bonaventure women’s basketball. But don’t think for a second that history can’t repeat itself, especially with Jim Crowley still at the helm.
With six new faces and three new starters, the Atlantic 10 coaches picked Bonaventure to finish seventh out of 16 teams in the conference.
That is a fair assessment, considering the Bonnies will be without 67.7 percent of their scoring from a year ago.
Despite being chosen to finish in the middle of the Atlantic 10, the ESPN/USA Today coaches’ poll gave Bonaventure six votes for the preseason Top 25.
Bonaventure was the only Atlantic 10 team to even receive votes.
The Bonnies will return four players who averaged more than twenty minutes a game.
Alaina Walker might be the most important.
A member of the Atlantic 10 All-Defensive Team a year ago, Walker is one of two seniors who will play this season. Senior Chelsea Bowker is out for the year because of surgery on her ankle.
At 5’9”, Walker might not be the tallest, but her defensive abilities allow her to cover many positions on the perimeter and inside.
Last year, because of an injury to Van Tatenhove, she covered 6’2” Laura Sweeney of Villanova.
Walker might be the most versatile defender in the Atlantic 10.
Another key contributor to last season’s Sweet 16 team: Doris Ortega.
Ortega played exceptionally in three tournament games, averaging a team-high 11.3 points per game, 6.3 rebounds per game and connecting on 91 percent of her free throws.
Ortega, a junior, has the ability to put up even better numbers this season, as she becomes the unofficial No. 1 scoring option.
CeCe Dixon electrified opposing defenses with her quickness, ball handlinga seasonand ability to knock down 3-pointers a season ago.
Dixon will now face the challenges of becoming a full-time starter.
Like Ortega, Dixon played exceptionally in March. She averaged 8.7 points per game in three NCAA Tournament games.
The nucleus of Dixon, Ortega and Walker will be crucial for the success of the Bonnies.
But it is the players who will play with them that are the most meaningful if the Bonnies are looking to the postseason tournaments.
Senior Jordan McGee, a junior college transfer a year ago, made great strides during her first season with the Brown and White.
McGee, who played in all but one game last year, is the type of player every coach wants on his or her team. This team player works hard, plays great defense and dives on the floor for loose balls.
A player who has patiently been waiting for her opportunity is Ashley Zahn.
Zahn, a junior, spent the last two seasons behind Jenkins and Bowker. And just like the two of them, Zahn can shoot the ball.
Last year Zahn connected on 77.8 percent (7 of 9) of her 3-pointers last season.
Sophomore Tatiana Wilson saw limited minutes last year, but she has the capabilities of scoring the basketball and playing tough defense.
As for the freshmen.
“They have all shown flashes at times at being able to deliver the specific skill that we recruited them for,” said assistant coach Ryan Gensler.
Despite the early growing pains of adapting to college basketball, Gensler senses an admirable trait among them.
“One of the great things about them is they’re eager to learn, they’re eager to put in the time,” he said.
Saturday marks the beginning of their collegiate basketball careers.
“Once the lights come on, we really hope that confidence starts to exude, and they’ll really start to value the things that we value as a program on the court,” said Gensler.
Although there might be uncertainty on how good this Bonnies team can be this year, one thing is certain: Crowley gives them the best chance to win.