Jasmine Sina, the 2015 America East Rookie of the Year, returns to the court after missing last season with an injury.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Women’s basketball preview: Bearcats look to continue rise
October 28, 2016Tweet
In its third season under head coach Linda Cimino, the Binghamton women’s basketball team is poised to become one of the top programs in the America East Conference.
Last year, the Bearcats were the eighth-most improved Division I program in the country. After being picked to finish last (ninth) in the America East last year, Binghamton tied for third during the regular season. In the conference tournament, it reached the semifinals for the first time since 2012.
To fully appreciate Binghamton’s success last year, it must be noted that starting point guard Jasmine Sina, the 2015 America East Rookie of the Year, missed the season with an injury. That forced several other players to either pick up more minutes or play a different position. In the end, however, the Bearcats exceeded all outside expectations.
This season, Sina returns along with a pair of all-conference selections in Imani Watkins and Alyssa James as well as an all-rookie pick in Rebecca Carmody. In addition, five talented freshmen figure to make a substantial impact on the program. With all but two players back from last year’s squad, the Bearcats are in position for an even better 2016-17 campaign.
“We have some really good pieces this year,” Cimino said. “We are a little deeper than we have been in the past. The kids are working really hard and I have been really impressed with their growth so far. I have seen a lot of progress, especially with our five freshmen.”
With Sina and Watkins leading the way, the guards remain the strength of the team. Three rookies, however, provide both the talent and depth to further solidify the backcourt.
“Our strength is in our backcourt,” Cimino said. “At this level, you need really good guards in order to compete and win. I think that we have those guards.”
After earning America East All-Rookie honors her freshman year, Watkins moved up to the second team as a sophomore. With Sina injured, Watkins took over the point guard position, averaged a team-best 16.0 points per game and became the team’s vocal leader. Heading into her junior season, Watkins is continuing to develop into a standout player, including being selected to the preseason all-conference team.
“Imani has proven that she is one of the top players in our conference. She wants to win and is taking steps to improve her game. Her athleticism combined with her ability to score makes her one of the top players in the league.”
Sina ranked fourth in the conference with a team-best 14.8 points per game as a freshman. She also was seventh in the nation with 3.0 three-point field goals per game. Although she was not on the court last year, she continued to lead the team and grow as a player from the sidelines.
“Jasmine learned a lot on the sidelines last year,” Cimino said. “She is going to come back hungry. She is ready to go.”
Freshman Kai Moon arrives from Bolingbrook, Illinois, where she was an all-state selection at Nequa Valley High School. She is a combo guard and is capable of excelling at both point guard and shooting guard.
“Kai has unbelievable ball-handling skills,” Cimino said. “It’s very difficult for defenders to keep her in front of them. Probably the best part of Kai’s game is her ability to score with contact. She has great court vision, which allows her to create scoring opportunities for her teammates. She hustles, defends well, gets tips and goes after loose balls.”
From Clifton Park, New York comes freshman Carly Boland, who was named first-team all-state at Shenendehowa High School as a senior. She finished her career with 1,671 points and at 6-0, has the size to be a force at the wing position.
“Carly is a very unique and versatile player,” Cimino said. “She can play both inside and outside. Carly has the ability to put the ball in the basket, she flat out scores! She understands the game very well.”
Fellow freshman Bailey Williams hails from Dublin, Ohio, where she was an all-district pick her final two years at Dublin Jerome High School. From beyond the arc, she shot a blistering 48 percent.
“Bailey is one of the hardest-working players I have ever coached,” Cimino said. “She is a smart player who sees the court and reads (opposing) defenses very well. She is someone of the highest character and she just works.”
Kylie Libby is the lone fourth-year senior in the backcourt. She has appeared in all but six games over the past two seasons and has made six starts.
“Kylie is a great high-low entry passer and has the ability to hit the trail three-point shot,” Cimino said. “She has really good vision from the top of the key. I’ve been impressed with her growth the last two seasons.”
Fellow senior Tess Wicks is a walk-on who joined the Bearcats last year. In her junior year, she appeared in 13 games.
“Tess fits in well with our culture,” Cimino said. “She works hard, is very positive and helps her teammates get better every day.”
While the guards remain its strength, Binghamton is becoming a more balanced team in the frontcourt. James remains the leader of that unit but unlike last season, has a lot more size and depth around her.
“We definitely have improved our depth at the post positions,” Cimino said. “We have a couple of options this year. We have added both size and athleticism.”
James is the reigning America East Defensive Player of the Year and was also named third-team all-conference last season. She led the conference and was No. 15 in the nation with 2.97 blocks per game, breaking an America East single season record. James also was fourth in rebounding (7.9 rpg.) and ninth in scoring (14.4 ppg.).
“Alyssa has become a bigger offensive threat for us,” Cimino said. “She has expanded her shooting range and is becoming more polished around the rim. Still, her biggest jobs are to defend, block shots and rebound.”
While James anchors the five position, freshman Karlee Krchnavi is a big addition at the four position. Hailing from Quakertown, Pennsylvania, she was named first-team all-state after averaging 18.4 points and 14.7 rebounds as a senior at Palisades High School. Her impact on the court, however, goes beyond the statistics.
“Karlee has the highest motor of anyone I have ever coached in my life,” Cimino said. “She is just going to outwork and tire people out. She hustles. She competes. She does all of the things that don’t show up in the box score.”
Carmody started in every game last year, averaging over 30 minutes in the process. She ranked No. 10 in the America East in rebounding (6.5 rpg.) and was eighth in steals (1.6 spg.).
“Rebecca had a solid freshman campaign,” Cimino said. “She got a lot of valuable experience. We are going to be looking for her to contribute more offensively. She is extremely athletic and versatile. Her defense creates offense for us and she is a very good transition player.”
From Marysville, Michigan, comes 6-4 freshman center Payton Husson. A two-time all-state selection at Marysville High School, she finished with 16.6 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game as a senior. Already, she has been making an impact on the court at Binghamton.
“Payton is already our most improved player after 10 weeks,” Cimino said. “She has a great ability to run rim to rim. She has great hands and great footwork. She can stretch the defense out because she can make the outside shot. Defensively, she is making Alyssa better every day.”
Senior Kristin Ross is a fourth-year senior who has played at the four position the past two years. After starting in 18 games as a sophomore, she started in all but two games last season.
“Kristin is a strong player with good post moves,” Cimino said. “We will look to her to step up as a leader, rebound and make some shots for us.”
Seeking to bounce back from an injury is sophomore is Corrinne Godshall. She appeared in 18 games last season and finished with a team-best 10 rebounds against Maine on Jan. 30.
“Corrinne is a versatile player who can play (both) inside and out,” Cimino said. “She is really good at catching the ball in the high post position and making that 15-foot jump shot.”
Rounding out the frontcourt is sophomore Kennedi Thompson, who appeared in 13 games last year.
“Kennedi is a back-to-the-basket post player who has a really soft touch,” Cimino said. “She can make that 15-foot shot and is a really good free-throw shooter.”
Binghamton’s non-conference schedule includes three first-time opponents as well as four teams that took part in either the NCAA Tournament or WNIT last year. Among the 13 foes are teams from the BIG EAST, Ivy League, Patriot League, Northeast Conference (NEC) and Mid-American Conference (MAC).
“All of the games that we have in the non-conference will definitely help us when we start in the America East,” Cimino said. “Many of them are against very competitive, well-coached programs.”
The Bearcats season opener is against Bucknell on Nov. 11 at Dr. Bai Lee Court at the Events Center. The Bison won 25 games last year and advanced to the second round of the WNIT.
“Bucknell is a great opening game for us,” Cimino said. “They are very well coached and run a good offense. It’s a great series for us.”
On Nov. 16, Binghamton visits the University of Pennsylvania for the inaugural meeting between the two programs. The Quakers are the defending Ivy League champion and have advanced to the NCAA Tournament twice in the past three years.
Ohio University is another first-time opponent and hosts the Bearcats on Dec. 19. Last season, the Bobcats advanced to the third round of the WNIT. In 2015, Ohio University won the MAC and earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Also facing Binghamton for the first time is Providence College. The Friars, who host the Bearcats on Nov. 19, compete in the Big East Conference.
“Penn won a very competitive Ivy League last year and is very well coached,” Cimino said. “Ohio will be a good experience for us too since they won the MAC the year before last and Providence is a very athletic team from the Big East.”
Sacred Heart is the Bearcats’ final non-conference opponent that took part in a national postseason tournament last year, having played in the first round of the WNIT. The Pioneers come to Dr. Bai Lee Court at the Events Center on Nov. 23.
Penn is one of five Ivy League opponents on the Bearcats’ non-conference schedule. Binghamton hosts Brown (Nov. 27), Columbia (Dec. 10) and Cornell (Jan. 1) and head to Yale on Nov. 13.
“The Ivy League has the best conference RPI in our region and is ninth in the nation,” Cimino said. “I figured it would be good to get as many games against them as possible. We are similar to them academically and they all are located close to us.”
Other home games are against Misericordia on Dec. 17 and Georgian Court on Dec. 30. On the road, the Bearcats also head to Fairleigh Dickinson (Dec. 2) and NJIT (Dec. 6).
AMERICA EAST CONFERENCE
For just the second time in conference history, the America East had four teams earn post-season bids in 2015-16. Albany advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament while Maine took part in the WNIT. Stony Brook and UMBC, meanwhile, played in the Women’s Basketball Invitational (WBI), with the Retrievers advancing to the quarterfinals.
This year, the landscape of the America East has changed. There are three new head coaches and seven of last year’s 15 all-conference players have since graduated. Still, with many talented underclassmen returning, the America East promises to remain just as competitive.
“I am really proud to coach in this conference,” Cimino said. “We have some great coaches and players. The competition in the America East is so strong that every game day requires you to be at your best in order to win. No team can be overlooked.”
America East play begins on Jan. 4 as the Bearcats host UMBC in a rematch of last season’s conference quarterfinal game. Other home matchups are against defending conference champion Albany on Jan. 19 and on Jan. 28 against Maine. The Bearcats’ final regular-season home game is against Hartford on Feb. 23.
The remaining conference home dates are against New Hampshire (Jan. 14), UMass Lowell (Feb. 4), Vermont (Feb. 6) and Stony Brook (Feb. 18).
“We are going to prepare and put ourselves in a position to be right there at the end of conference play.” Cimino said. “And hopefully come back to the Events Center for our last game.”