Oct. 21, 2002
It is not an overstatement to say that the upcoming season is the most highly-anticipated in the 28-year history of Siena women's basketball. Expectations and hopes are exceptionally high in Loudonville as the Saints look to build on the greatest two-year stretch in school history. Coming off a 24-win season and NCAA appearance in 2001 and a 23-win campaign and WNIT showing in 2002, the Saints are primed and ready to make a return run to the postseason in the 2002-2003 season.
Siena features five returning starters, including four senior members of one of the greatest classes in school history. With virtually the entire roster returning and a solid corps of newcomers, the Green and Gold should be a solid favorite to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
"We know teams will be gunning for us again this year, but I think this group is up to the challenge. We have veteran leadership and plenty of motivation from the end of last season to drive us to the NCAA Tournament," said head coach Gina Castelli.
Siena will once again feature the top frontcourt in the MAAC with two Latvians anchoring the Saints in the post. With a combination of power, grace and differing styles, Siena's frontcourt is capable of dominating the paint and controlling the battle of the boards.
Any discussion about Siena in the 2002-2003 season must start with senior tri-captain Gunta Basko. The women's basketball community nationwide is quickly learning what Siena fans have known for years, that Basko is one of the top players in the entire country. The two-time MAAC Player of the Year is trying to become the first three-time winner in conference history. She was named a District II Kodak All-American a season ago and the honors have already started rolling in for Basko's senior season. Womenscollegehoops.com named Basko an honorable mention preseason All-American, one of only 27 players to be honored on their All-American teams. The Latvian's jersey has also been hung in the "Ring of Honor" at the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn.
The accolades are well-deserved as Basko has proven to be as dominating a player as Siena College has ever known. With a breathtaking ability to take over games, Basko can control a game by playing in the post as well as by slashing and shooting from the perimeter. An all-around player, she is on pace to finish among the school's all-time leaders in points, rebounds, blocks and steals. More often than not, Basko is the best player on the floor and plays with an effort and exuberance that is infectious to her teammates. She gives Siena a great chance to win any game it plays and will be counted on to live up the standard of on-court brilliance that she has set for herself.
Not to be overlooked, junior Liene Jansone is a player who can dominate in her own right. The center is an imposing physical presence who makes the most of her opportunities. The Latvian made over 60 percent of her field goal attempts last season-a school record. After coming off the bench most of the season, Jansone was named the 2002 MAAC Sixth Player of the Year and Second Team All-MAAC. Blessed with great size and strength, Jansone uses superior footwork and willpower to set up shop in the post and overwhelm opposing defenders. She has shown a great touch around the basket and will continue to expand her game to show off a surprisingly-reliable outside jumper. After playing much of last season with pain in her feet, Jansone will be counted on to score consistently and use her height to control the rebounding battle.
Although undersized, there is perhaps no other player on the Siena squad who plays with more heart than junior Jolene Johnston. While consistently playing against players much larger, Johnston holds her own with a combination of guile, effort and determination. She is often matched up against the opposing team's best offensive post player and Johnston holds her own. On offense, the Shenendehowa product uses her quickness and last season, she showed an improved shooting touch out to 15 feet away from the basket.
After suffering a season-ending knee injury midway through her freshman season, junior Sherron Burgess spent much of last season returning to full health. When healthy, Burgess is a player who has the strength to be a rebounding force and be a factor scoring in the post. She continues to improve on finishing the scoring opportunities she creates for herself.
"Our frontcourt is a unit that will be counted on to score points consistently for us this year. With players like Gunta, Liene, Jolene and Sherron, we have four players who can score in the post but also take their games away from the basket," said Castelli.
Siena's backcourt is its deepest unit with three unquestioned leaders heading a group of players who will battle for playing time. With so many players trying to get on the court, the coaching staff has the luxury of being able to wear opposing teams down with wave after wave of fresh guards.
Siena's floor general the past two seasons returns to lead the Saints once again. Senior point guard Erica Anderson is a steadying influence on the court and can be counted on by coach Castelli to shepherd the team through good times and bad. Anderson is a calm leader who is not easily rattled. The tri-captain is a triple threat with the ability to make the three-point shot, drive to the basket and score as well as take it to the hole and pass the ball to open teammates. Anderson is a tireless worker who has led the Saints in minutes each of the past two seasons. Last season, she was named to the Third Team All-MAAC.
Anderson's partner in crime each of the past two seasons has been fellow senior Mary McKissack. An often overlooked player, McKissack is integral to the team's success. The guard uses her superior quickness to be the top defender on the team. She has the ability to adapt her game to contribute what the team needs for victory. McKissack is capable of scoring both inside and outside, passing the ball to set up teammates or rebounding well from her guard position. The tri-captain will once again flash her athleticism to spark her teammates and the crowd alike.
The third of Siena's three returning seniors in the backcourt made a substantial impact in her first season with the program. Sarah Craft showed the speed and savvy that made her a dominant scoring force at South Glens Falls High School and Mitchell Community College. Craft is fearless in driving to the basket and continues to improve on her outside shot. She is also a hard-nosed defender who is often matched up with larger players.
Two juniors will fight for more playing time this season and possibly even a spot in the starting lineup. Nathalie Marchino showed flashes of her scoring potential during her sophomore season. Marchino is a physical guard who uses an exceptional first step to slash her way to the basket. As she becomes more experienced and game-tested, Marchino will improve on finishing her forays to the hoop. Shimrit Gigi is a steady ballhandler who will be counted on to give the Saints valuable minutes. Gigi is a sharp outside shooter and a solid distributor who gets her teammates involved. As her scoring ability improves, she will see increased minutes in the Saints' crowded backcourt.
Sophomore Lauren Surber will miss the season after tearing her right ACL in the offseson. The setback is nothing new for Surber, who tore her left ACL during her senior season in high school. Surber returned from that injury to show the hard-nosed, scrappy style that will make her a valuable contributor in the future.
Castelli said, "Our guards present a lot of different looks but each of them plays hard which is what we stress. With Erica, Mary and Sarah, we have a lot of experience at this position and I'm counting on all our guards to be steady when they're on the court and handling the ball."
The Saints welcome five newcomers to the program and all will be counted on to contribute either this season or in seasons to come. "I feel like each of the players we've brought in can be an impact player in a Siena uniform. Even if that impact isn't this season, each of these players has a chance to be a strong contributor in the coming years," said Castelli.
Colonie high school star Michelle Blot joins the Saints after a stellar career with the Garnet Raiders. Blot is a pure shooter with the size to get her shot off from anywhere on the floor. She is an explosive scorer as evidenced by her record 43-point outburst in the finals of the Federation Tournament in 2001.
Brooklyn native Trish Lyons brings lightning quickness to the Green and Gold. Despite being just five-foot-four, Lyons scored over 2,000 points in high school. She has a little of everything in her game and is equally adept driving to the basket and shooting the outside jumper.
Whitney Cave is a rugged post player who has made the trip from Portland, Ore. to play at Siena. She has a great work ethic and does a lot of little things that may go unnoticed. Cave runs the floor well for a post player and will continue to refine her offensive skills.
While Cave has traveled across the country, Emily Clark traveled all the way across the world to come to Loudonville. The Australian is still raw but has shown a good touch around the basket. She continues to adapt to the American game.
Alexis Darling transferred to Siena in the offseason after spending her first two seasons at George Washington University. Darling, at six-foot-five, is the tallest player ever to wear the Green and Gold. She will bring size and strength to the post when she begins play in the 2003-2004 season.
"I think our schedule is one of, if not the, toughest we've ever played. With the number of 2002 postseason teams we're playing, it will be a great challenge," said Castelli.
The 2002-2003 slate does shape up as one of the impressive in school history. Siena will open in the preseason WNIT against Syracuse with a possible date against Penn State or Bucknell in the second round. All three teams played in the 2002 NCAA Tournament. The Saints will also play Boston College, Florida International and Holy Cross. Before the New Year, Siena will participate in the Hawk Classic with a matchup against America East champion Hartford and a potential clash against Saint Joseph's. As always, Siena will be challenged in conference play with games against defending champion Saint Peter's as well as dates with perennial powers Fairfield and Manhattan.