A new day is dawning for the Mount Vernon Nazarene College Lady Cougar basketball program.
Four highly successful seniors (Anne Nussbaum, Shelly Aldrich, Amie Bibby, and Holly Riggle) closed out their stellar careers in 1999-2000, finishing as the winningest class in MVNC women's basketball history with 67 victories. The Lady Cougars also posted only the second 20-win season in the program's 23-year history last season. MVNC finished 20-16 last year, which included their third straight National Chrisitan College Athletic Association East Region title and their third consecutive trip to the NCCAA National Tournament.
The four graduated seniors accounted for almost 4,000 career points. To say that there are big shoes to fill would be a major understatement.
Third-year head coach Steve Gregory is proud of his previous teams' accomplishments, but his focus is in the present. "We have had much success over the past couple of seasons," said Gregory. "Now, we are really going to be tested with our youth movement. We have a good mix of returners to go along with six new players added to the roster during the off-season."
"I feel good about our senior class," Gregory added. "Deanna Kilpatrick and Kelly Shetler have been in our system offensively and defensively and know what to expect. The system of play is pretty much the same since they began playing for me in two years ago. They have done a great job of leading this team and helping the underclassmen understand what we are trying to accomplish on and off of the basketball floor."
Seniors Kilpatrick and Shetler, along with junior Angie Trainer have been tabbed captains for this year's team. Kilpatrick is a 6-foot-1 guard/forward from Warsaw, Ohio. She averaged 10.2 points and 5.9 rebounds per game last season and was an Honorable Mention selection in the American Mideast Conference. Kilpatrick has tallied 741 career points and will likely become the 12th player in Lady Cougar basketball history to top the 1,000 point mark sometime this season.
Shetler, a 6-foot post, averaged 5.5 points and 3.9 rebounds per contest last season while playing in all 36 games. A native of Franklin, Pennsylvania, she has relocated to Mount Vernon after getting married during the summer.
Junior guards Angie Trainer and Trisha Smith return for another season. Trainer (5-foot-10) was MVNC's third leading scorer and second leading rebounder a year ago at 11.5 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. The Washington Court House native was selected to the AMC Honorable Mention team last year and has registered 709 career markers. Smith (5-foot-3) will compete for time at the point and shooting guard positions. She is a native of Gahanna, Ohio.
"For our team to be successful, several young players, including our new players are going to have to step up and perform for us this season," said Gregory. "The scrimmages in the preseason have given us a preview of some of the young talent we have in our program. That talent pool is good but lacks game experience at the collegiate level. With patience and time, I think we can be pretty good. We will certainly be better by the mid-point of our season than at the beginning because of the transition from a veteran squad to a relatively young squad. I can see the younger players' confidence growing with each scrimmage game we play right now."
Returning sophomores include Jenni Davis and Amy Stubbs. Davis, a 5-foot-5 point/shooting guard, played in 35 games last season. She averaged 3.7 points per game and led the team in free throw percentage at 85 percent. The Cardington native set a school-record by making 27 straight free throw attempts in her freshman campaign. Davis was also one of MVNC's top three-point threats last season, making 16-of-45 for 36 percent.
Stubbs, a 5-foot-10 forward/center returns with freshman eligibility after red-shirting last season. The Chillicothe native can play several positions and has really improved her perimeter shooting.
MVNC's first-year players include: LeAnn Mallernee (Sugarcreek), Lisa Beaver (Mt. Vernon), Monica Mohler (Croton), Susan Adams (Cardington), Lisa Weller (Carthage, NY), Carolyn Purdy (Berea), and Angie Svagerko (Campbell).
Mallernee, a 6-foot-2 transfer from Capital University, comes into MVNC's program as a senior eligibility-wise. "LeAnn could see considerable action in the center position," said Gregory. "She is a strong post player who knows how to position herself down low to receive the ball in a good scoring position."
Beaver, a 6-foot center, finished off a stellar career at Mount Vernon High School last year. She averaged 13 points and 9.3 rebounds per game in her senior season as a Yellow Jacket. "Lisa posseses a strong inside presence," said Gregory. "She is very intense and has surprisingly good range on her jump shot for a post player."
Mohler, a 5-foot-5 point guard, averaged 19.4 points per game en route to becoming the first player in Northridge High School history to surpass 1,000 career points. Mohler is also the career assists leader at NHS.
Adams, a 5-foot-7 guard/forward, averaged 14 points and 6.7 rebounds in her senior season at Cardington High School in 1998-1999. Adams is a transfer from Youngstown State University.
Weller, a 5-foot-5 guard, averaged 14.5 points a game last season and finished her career with 1,135 points at Carthage Central High School. A strong perimeter shooter, Weller ended her career as Carthage's all-time three-pointers made record holder, as well as its season record holder.
Purdy, a 5-foot-4 guard, averaged 9.4 points, 3 assists and 3 steals per game last season. Svagerko, a 5-foot-6 guard, comes back to the Lady Cougar basketball program after spending the past three seasons with the MVNC softball program. Svagerko will compete for time at the shooting guard/big guard positions.
"The strength of this team is different that of last year's team," added Gregory. "Last year, we were a veteran team that was very strong from the perimeter. That team set the NAIA national record for 3-pointers attempted in a season at 856. This team will be young and untested at the guard positions but a little stronger in the post. We have added a couple more good sized post players that know how to position themselves for high percentage shots. The big key for us will be getting the ball to those people."
"Our conference (AMC) will be tougher than ever. We have two of the last three NAIA Division II national champions in our conference in Walsh University and Shawnee State University. Shawnee State and Ohio Dominican College represented our conference out at the National Tournament last season. Those facts speak very loudly about our conference in my opinion. We will be tested early and often with our schedule this year."
The Lady Cougars will open up their season Saturday by hosting a veteran team and perennial 20-game winner in Ohio State University-Newark beginning at 7:00 p.m. at MVNC's Physical Education Center.