By Joseph Phelan, @JPhelan13
A year after advancing to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, coach Jim Crowley found his team out of the Atlantic-10 tournament last season.
The St. Bonaventure Bonnies can only learn from a roller coaster-type season.
“Hopefully the biggest help is they don’t want to do it again,” said Crowley. “You don’t want to go through that again.”
The Bonnies finished 10-19, and although a drop off had been expected with the graduation of four key players, the Bonnies looked fully capable of advancing to the A-10 Tournament before the season.
But an injury to Chelsea Bowker before the season began the downfall.
And then after the season, starters CeCe Dixon and Doris Ortega were no longer with the program after disputes with Crowley.
A silver lining, however, could be found in the development of two freshmen—Katie Healy and Emily Michael.
Friday at North Carolina State marks the beginning of a new season.
A season filled with promise and the excitement for the future as Crowley expects to start four sophomores (Michael, Nyla Rueter, Hannah Little, Healy) and one redshirt freshman (Gabby Richmond) against the Wolfpack on Friday night.
It won’t be about wins and losses, especially in the beginning of the season.
It is about the Bonnies getting back to the way they played before last year.
“For me the difficulty, I mean winning and losing is what it is, I just didn’t feel like we played like we want our program to play,” said coach Crowley. “I think our kids understood that too the kids who came back. I think they are really embracing getting better the way we want to get better”
With nine healthy players and one walk-on graduate student coach Crowley has limited options—but that will give each player a chance to demonstrate her skill set and Crowley wants his players who stayed to play.
“I like to play nine, and right now we are at a place where all nine deserve it,” said Crowley.
The rotation is simple. Every scholarship player will get her minutes.
The non-conference season will be about learning how each other play together and taking one game at a time. Never getting too high or too low after a game.
“Each game is what it is, and we got to approach it prepared and go at it the best way we can and then we learn from it and get ready for the next one,” said Crowley. “As long as we learn that and have that approach then hopefully we are playing our best basketball when it becomes 2014.”
Players like Rueter and Little have a chance to really help this team.
Rueter is a skilled passer, scorer and defender. She works best in transition, so the Bonnies’ team defense will be crucial to her success.
Little, on the other hand, has great athletic ability. Crowley said Little could be the best athlete he has ever coached. She cuts to the basket well, and Healy and her have great chemistry on the court.
Little struggled as times as a freshman in the minutes she received, but Little worked hard over the summer and during the fall, which has impressed Crowley and his staff.
“The biggest thing is that she has really responded well to coaching,” said Crowley. “And as a team we are seeing very positive things from that.”
Crowley said Little has a great approach to her game, and it has been even better than her athletic ability.
The Bonnies will need Little to step into a much bigger role this season.
With an emphasis on youth, Bowker has been an afterthought at times.
She has struggled with an ankle injury, but she, baring any setback, will play in the season opener.
With Ashley Zahn out for the season, Bowker is the lone player remaining from the Sweet 16 team.
A team in which she averaged 7.1 points a game. She currently has 146 three pointers, which is good for seventh on the Bonaventure all-time list.
Bowker should stretch the floor on offense and be a leader on the team.
“I think her enthusiasm for the game and her fearlessness were things that we really missed last year, and I’ve already seen that carried over,” said Crowley. “She obviously shows her toughness by competing everyday even though she is in pain.”
Crowley has seen how influential Bowker has been.
“If they (leaders) try to be someone else people know that pretty quickly,” said Crowley. “And Chelsea (Bowker) is being herself and I think it is having a positive impact on us.”
Crowley likes how his team has played in practice. And a convincing win over Edinboro last Saturday definitely has given players confidence, but Crowley will know how effective his team can be when they face challenges.
“Whenever you have adversity, you can feel sorry for yourself or you can get better from it, and I think we have a group of kids who have really worked to get better from it, certainly in the spring, summer and fall they have done that,” said Crowley. “How they handle when things get a little difficult this year that’ll be the big test.”
Crowley has optimism for the season. He knows that nothing will be accomplished after game one or game two, but that the season is a journey. And that each player will get better with time.
“We’ve gotten to know our players quite a bit better, and they have gotten to know us better,” said Crowley. “And hopefully that continues and if that continues throughout this year then we are even stronger.”
And if that happens then Crowley can take the program back to where it was before.
“Now you have a group that is comfortable and confident with each other and with their coaches and then the new players join right in on that and you kind of get the fluently of the program,” he said.
As Bonaventure tries to improve from last year, the Bonnies can learn for the future.