Column: Team Effort Leads To Big Win

[St.Bonaventure regroups in the huddle following a timeout – Photo courtesy of gobonnies.com]

By Joseph Phelan, Assistant Sports Editor, @jphelan13

Take this scenario — What happens when Alaina Walker and Doris Ortega combine to shoot 1-for-10?

It means that the Bonnies must have lost, right?

Not even close.

The Bonnies beat Binghamton 61-34 in front of 1,121 spectators to open their season.

After trailing 12-11 with 11:03 remaining in the first half, the Bonnies went on a 22-6 run to end the half.

Katie Healy was a reason why.

In her first collegiate game, Healy torched the Bearcats defense with 8 first half points.

“I saw that some of the players were struggling,” Healy said after the game. “And my coaches told me that I need to step it up, really bring some energy.”

Healy provided the necessary offensive spark around the midway mark of the first half by utilizing her distinct height advantage.

“Katie gave us a presence inside,” Bona head coach Jim Crowley said of his freshman.

Healy’s inside presence gave the Bonnies open shots, which junior Ashley Zahn didn’t pass up.

Zahn, who scored a career-high 14 points, provided two 3-pointers and three deep 2-pointers.

But the junior wasn’t hot from the get-go, missing her first two 3-point attempts before settling down.

“Me and coach talked about this week is how you forget about your misses, you correct them and then you keep going from there,” Zahn said.

Zahn also talked about team defense.

“In the exhibition game we had trouble helping off the post, so we worked on that all this week,” said Zahn. “(We) really drilled it.”

A player who stepped up on defense was freshman Emily Michael.

Michael had two steals and played great on-ball defense on the Bearcats’ Stephanie Jensen.

“I am really confident in Emily’s abilities, so is the team,” said Crowley. “We know we are going to get effort and we know she has really good feet.”

Michael, who also had three assists and two 3-pointers in her college debut, realized the importance of team defense.

“As a team, we work on defense all the time and it is really what we feed off of to get our offense going,” Michael said.

Michael’s ball pressure helped force 16 Bearcats’ turnovers that resulted in 22 Bona points.

“A goal I set for myself and the team was that I was going to bring it on defense and I think today is worked out,” Michael said.

Defense has been the staple of Crowley’s system for years and the Bonnies tied a school record held by last year’s team by allowing just 34 points.

Even while many saw glimpses of a defense that finished first in the Atlantic 10 in scoring defense last year, Crowley was not pleased.

“We made a lot of mistakes defensively in the second half. We were very fortunate they missed some easy shots,” Crowley said. “But that’s what first games are for.”

Crowley had an important message to his team after the win.

“I told them after this game, they’re never going to satisfy me, but as long as they’re working really hard to satisfy each other and understand that accountability then we will be fine with whatever the scoreboard says.”

phelanjc11@bonaventure.edu

Column: Bowker’s Injury A Blow To The Bonnies

[Photo courtesy of gobonnies.com]

By Joseph Phelan, Staff Writer, @jphelan13

Injuries to star players and senior leaders can often cripple a team’s chances of surviving and the St. Bonaventure women’s basketball team is already behind the eight-ball.

Senior guard Chelsea Bowker, is set to undergo season-ending ankle surgery which will require at least six months of recovery time.

“It’s big,” Bonnies head coach Jim Crowley said. “Anytime you lose an experienced player and a talented player it is a big thing.”

Bowker was an integral member of the Bonnies Sweet 16 run last season when she averaged 7.1 points per game and shot 3-pointers at a 38 percent clip — second best on the team.

However, after rolling her ankle three weeks ago, she knew it was devastating.

“I went to the doctor and they said it was pretty bad right away,” she said emotionally. “I tried to go and I just couldn’t.”

But Bowker is not going to let the injury hamstring her from helping the team.

“I’m trying to turn this injury into something positive,” the senior said. “I can be on the sidelines to coach these freshmen.”

St. Bonaventure opens the season with an almost entirely different squad after hauling in six freshman. And with the latest injury, they will all be playing significant minutes.

“The freshmen are going to have to step up and help us out,” said junior forward Doris Ortega. “Right now, it is about us building confidence in the freshmen so they can fill Chelsea’s spot.”

And Bowker will be hard to replace.

The senior knew where to be at all times after playing in Crowley’s system and was able to stretch defenses with her 3-point shooting capabilities.

In fact, she ranks seventh all-time in St. Bonaventure history with 146 3-pointers made.

“We are going to need somebody to hit some jump shots cause that was obviously one of her most valuable things,” said Crowley.

Junior Ashley Zahn has now been in the program for three seasons and is someone that can conceivably get the first crack at Bowker’s spot.
Last year Zahn knocked down two threes against Villanova, and so far she has had a good beginning to the season by giving it her all in practice and impressing everyone from the coaching staff to Bowker.

“She has been killing it,” Bowker said of Zahn. “This is her chance to get up and shoot the ball. She just needs to keep her confidence up and put it in.”

It’s tough for any player to have to sit down with injuries, especially when they are a senior in Bowker’s case, but her teammates have helped her out throughout the process.

“They’ve been very supportive,” Bowker said. “We have to take in the best positive manner as we can.”

Despite losing a senior leader, the goals for this St. Bonaventure squad remain the same.

“What we are is what we are,” Crowley said. “People have to understand and build into some things quicker then we thought maybe they have to, but they are up for it.”

And if last season taught us anything, these Bonnies step their games up at the most crucial points and make the impossible into probable.

phelanjc11@bonaventure.edu

Behind the Wolfpack: Bona Fans Chant Shows love for team

[Bona fans stand up and applaud St. Bonaventure for a magical season that ended in the Sweet 16- Photo by Ryan Lazo]

By Ryan Lazo, Co-editor in chief/feature columnist, @RMLazo13

RALEIGH, N.C. – “We love Bona’s…we love Bona’s.”

The chant reverberated throughout the areas of PNC Arena occupied by the St. Bonaventure faithful with 2:06 remaining in a game that had been decided much earlier.

But that didn’t matter to the Bona fans in attendance.

While the final score read Notre Dame 77, St. Bonaventure 35, Bona fans stood on their feet, clapping wildly, continuing their chant and saluting the team that had accomplished so much this season.

“That’s our place; that’s our area,” Bona coach Jim Crowley said as he reflected on the moment. “The fact that the people who were here behind us still believed in us, still appreciated it, speaks volumes about the character of our school area and our fans.”

And that is precisely what makes St. Bonaventure special to those alumni and students who have graced the campus on an everyday basis.

It’s the ability to see through the bad and notice the good. Sure, the Bonnies were beat by an athletically superior team, but that does not take away the special season they had.

“Forty minutes isn’t going to define our season,” Crowley said. “It didn’t earlier this year and it doesn’t now.”

And their season began to be defined in the first game of the season when St. Bonaventure marched into Carnesecca Arena and handed the then No. 19 St. John’s Red Storm a season-opening loss.

The Bonnies would continue to display their road warrior mentality by handing West Virginia just their fourth non-conference loss at home under current coach Mike Carey.

Then, with a chip on their shoulder after being picked to finish sixth in the Atlantic 10 Preseason Coaches Poll, the Bonnies steamrolled through the conference slate.

Finishing with a perfect 14-0 record, they proved that they were the class of the conference, setting numerous records along the way.

They finished the regular season with a perfect road record, achieved the program’s first national ranking, eclipsed 30 wins for the first time and had an 18-game win streak.

After losing to the Dayton Flyers in the A-10 Finals, the Bonnies gathered in the Reilly Center, with more than 1,000 fans in tow, as the selection show was played on a big screen.

Roars erupted as St. Bonaventure was given a No. 5 seed and an opening round match-up with Florida Gulf Coast. But the opponent didn’t matter in the moment.

Instead, those in attendance focused on one note – it would be the Bonnies first appearance in the NCAA Tournament in their history, another record set in a season full of firsts.

And in their tournament debut, the Bonnies recovered from an 11-point deficit against FGCU to win an overtime thriller. Next up was Marist, a team the Bonnies beat in each of the past two seasons.

True to form Bona executed their game plan to perfection.

Jessica Jenkins supplied the scoring load, erupting for 22 points while the defense forced Marist into bad shots as they advanced to the Sweet 16.

But waiting for them were the Irish who did not take the Bonnies lightly and imposed their will from the start, playing fluid on offense and suffocating on defense, holding Bona to 18.8 percent shooting for the game.

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw still came away impressed with St. Bonaventure.

“I told them in the handshake line that they had a great season,” McGraw said. “To make it to the Sweet 16 in your first NCAA Tournament is quite a debut.”

While Bona’s four seniors – Jenkins, Armelia Horton, Megan Van Tatenhove and Jennie Ashton – have played their final game, the impact they have had on the program will last forever. 

“We have 2,000 students,” Crowley said. “We have no women’s basketball history at all and we’re in the Sweet 16.”

After setting numerous records this season, Bona has made their own history. 

It’s a recent history full of winning, one that should continue thanks to the foundation laid by the seniors who saved their best for their final season.

lazorm09@bonaventure.edu

Bonnies Dream Season Ends In Sweet 16

[Photo courtesy of gobonnies.com]

By Joseph Phelan, Staff Writer, @jphelan13

Flashback to Nov. 4, a day the Bonnies barely escaped Division II Edinboro in their season-opening exhibition. 

Then flash forward to Sunday and the Bonnies lost to Notre Dame, 79-35, in the Sweet 16. 

Yes, they lost to the Notre Dame team that is ranked No. 4 in the nation and is led by their star junior Skylar Diggans.

What a journey it has been for the 31-4 St. Bonaventure Bonnies.

Yesterday’s loss will not dictate how this team is portrayed.

“Forty minutes does not define our season,” Bona coach Jim Crowley said.

He is right.

The memories and moments from the season are aplenty. There is much to be pleased about in Olean, N.Y.

The Bonnies just happened to run into a more superior team in Notre Dame.

Notre Dame, led by a balanced scoring attack, had its way early on against the Bonnies and never looked back, jumping out to a quick 16-2 advantage.

“They came out ready to go,” Jessica Jenkins said of the Irish. “They were playing with a chip on their shoulder.”

It was readily apparent in the defensive pressure shown by the Irish on defense, suffocating any Bona player who dared take a shot.

They took pride in not allowing the Bonnies to get a shot off, let alone score.

And score they didn’t. 

The Bonnies only drained one field goal over the first 10:47 of the game. 

“My biggest worry the whole time was whether we could score,” Crowley said. “And obviously that came to fruition.”

Doris Ortega and CeCe Dixon, grouped together as a “package deal” when they were recruited, were the only Bonnies who found success Sunday.

Ortega finished with 11 points while Dixon chipped in 13 as the duo scored more than half of the Bonnies points.

Meanwhile, Kalya McBride led the way for Notre Dame in the first half. 

At 5-foot-11 she completely shut down the smaller Jenkins on defense and dominated her on offense.

She recoreded all 10 of her points in the first half and was one of three Irish to reach double-figures.

Kaila Turner and Natalie Novosel  also combined to score 30 points for the No. 1 seeded Notre Dame.

But Notre Dame really put the game out of reach in the second half, outscoring the Bonnies by a 44 to 22 margin.

With the win, Notre Dame will take on No. 2 seed Maryland tomorrow night at PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC.

The final score indicates that the Bonnies historical season is over, but that is not the case.

The moments and memories will remain with the players, fans and alumni for eternity.

“Having the crowd chanting at the end of the game was special,” Jenkins said hiding back the emotion of the moment.

For the first time since 1970, a St. Bonaventure basketball program won a tournament game.

Setting numerous records along the way, the Bona women gave fans something to believe in, helping warm up the cold and harsh winters in Olean, N.Y.

phelanjc11@bonaventure.edu

Behind the Wolfpack: Bonnies finally earn respect

[Photo courtesy of gobonnies.com]

By Ryan Lazo, Co-Editor in chief/feature columnist, @RMLazo13

The respect has finally trickled down to Olean, N.Y.

Snubbed the past two weeks by the Associated Press, St. Bonaventure has cracked the Top 25 for the first time in program history.

It’s unfortunate it has taken this long for the voters to be aware of the magical season that the Bonnies (22-2, 9-0) are in the midst of. 

For some it’s hard to fathom: the smallest school in the Atlantic 10 Conference among the Top 25, undefeated in conference play.

However, spend only one practice around this program, and it’s easy to see that the success starts with the Bonnies coach.

Jim Crowley has instilled an attitude in the program, one that has prompted a complete 180 degree turnaround. Starting his career with a 57-119 record, Crowley has since gone 119-57 with three-straight 20-win seasons, culminating in three WNIT berths.

Many point to Crowley reading  Moneyball as the reason this program turned around. But it can even be traced back to a blowout loss to Bowling Green during the 2006-07 season.

“In practice the next day, the team was joking around,” Crowley said last season. “I told them that this is not the way we’re going to play. We can’t go into a game expecting to lose.”

Since the impromptu speech, the Bonnies have won 119 games, flip flopping their coach’s record. Yet, no one has taken notice.

The AP is right to have the Bonnies among the Top 25, but it should have been done weeks ago.

The numbers are there for everyone to see.

St. Bonaventure is the best road team in the country with a 10-0 record. Only two other teams are unbeaten on the road.

The Bonnies are 10-2 versus top-100 RPI teams, giving them more wins than any teams ranked No. 13-25 in the AP Top 25.

They also have only two losses. They came against Delaware, #6 in the RPI and Villanova, #15. In both games, the Bonnies were missing a starter due to injury.

Yet the perception is they are not among the elite.

“People still think we are a scrappy team,” Crowley said after a victory over George Washington. “No, we’re not a scrappy team, we’re a good team.”

Crowley’s correct.

These Bonnies have weapons everywhere you look.

Senior guard Jessica Jenkins, averaging 17.9 points per game, can shoot over a skyscraper if she had to. 

Senior Megan Van Tantenhove averages 12.9 points per game, giving the Bonnies an inside presence that frees up shooters.

Then there’s sophomore Doris Ortega who is the best off-the-bounce player the Bonnies have. 

Each player knows  her role and plays it to the best of her ability.

It’s an attitude, a winning one, that finally has the Bonnies earning the respect they deserve.

lazorm09@bonaventure.edu

COLUMN: LIKE AN ASSEMBLY LINE, SOMEONE IS ALWAYS READY

[National Player of the Week Jessica Jenkins guards Ashley Prim of St. Joseph’s closely at the Reilly Center – Photo by Melissa Scott]

By Joseph Phelan, Staff Writer, @jphelan13

It was business as usual for the Bonnies (19-2, 6-0) as they defeated the St. Joseph’s Hawks, 68-61, in front of 1,012 lively spectators at the Reilly Center.

However, a victory was not secured without a few bumps in the road.

“Our kids understand when they need to raise their level, and they are not afraid of that,” said Bona coach Jim Crowley.  

Many voters probably ranked St. Bonaventure as the Atlantic 10 Conference preseason’s sixth best team because they wondered about players not named Megan Van Tatenhove or Jessica Jenkins.

Because if not its stars, who can step up?

The answer: everyone.

Some days, it’s junior Alaina Walker. Some days it’s sophomore CeCe Dixon. Some days, no one played excellent, but senior Armelia Horton’s hustle plays or Jennie Ashton’s offensive rebounds impacts a game.

Like an assembly line, St. Bonaventure always had another piece ready. 

Wednesday night, Doris Ortega stepped up, becoming the seventh Bonnies player to score 15 points or higher in a game this season.

“Coaches have constantly reminded me that I am a very good off-the-bounce player,” Ortega said. “It causes a lot of miss matches to opposing post players.”

The sophomore, who leads the team in assists, recorded a career-high 20 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field and converted all eight free throws.

Ortega’s production was need as Hawks’ Ashley Prim held Jenkins, who had only six points on 2-of-8 shooting, in check. 

Meanwhile, Van Tatenhove also struggled against the taller Hawks (13-6, 3-2) defenders, recording only 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting.

Crowley said he credited Ortega for picking up her teammates when they needed it.

“We don’t win without it,” Crowley said of Ortega’s effort.

The well-oiled machine that had St. Bonaventure receiving 42 votes in the AP top-25 this week, sprung a leak.

The Bonnies defense was not as swift. They didn’t box out as well, surrendering 10 offensive rebounds and committed 16 turnovers — five more than their season average.

Crowley said it was the veteran presence on the team that helped steady the tide.

“Our seniors keep us calm,” Crowley said. “They make sure people know what to do.”

Finding themselves trailing in a game once again, this time by seven with 13:52 remaining, the Bonnies showed their trademark intensity and fought their way back.

Dixon, who had 10 points and two offensive rebounds, sparked St. Bonaventure back into the game with three consecutive baskets from 5:46 to 2:49 left in the game.

Her third basket gave Bona a 60-54 lead, one they would not relinquish.

Perhaps Crowley explained his team the best.

“We are putting the acorns in the tree,” he said. “And no one can take them away.”

Crowley’s correct. The Bonnies just to continue to pile on the numbers on the left side of the won-loss column, moving past doubters and teams, one win at a time.

And hopefully one voter at a time.

St. Bonaventure (16-2, 3-0) never trailed Saturday afternoon en route to a program-record A-10 win with a 64-52 victory over visiting Saint Louis (6-12, 0-3 A-10) at the Reilly Center.

Seniors Jessica Jenkins and Megan Van Tatenhove scored 15 and 14, respectively, to lead a Bonnies squad that committed only six turnovers. 

[Photos by Tony Lee, @sHecKii]