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Balanced Bearcats to rely on speed, inside presence

After serving as an assistant coach the past eight seasons, Nicole Scholl heads into her first season at the helm of the Binghamton women’s basketball program. With a blend of solid returnees and promising newcomers, she is excited about the potential of the upcoming season.

“I think our outlook for this year is great,” she said. “It’s been an good month seeing everyone working hard to improve. Our returning players have all come back in great shape and our newcomers are adjusting very well.”

This year, the Bearcats will have a different approach on the floor, with a deep and versatile backcourt. After leaning heavily on its inside game the past two seasons, Binghamton has become a more balanced team, built on speed.

Junior Erica Carter is coming off a promising sophomore campaign. She averaged 9.8 points per game and drained a team-high 49 three-pointers. As an upperclassman, she is poised for a breakout year.

“Erica is a player who I think is really going to come into her own this year,” Scholl said. “We are going to look for a lot of point scoring from Erica and basically give her the go-ahead to shoot the ball anytime she touches it.”

Along with Carter, junior Muffy Sadler will also be counted on at either the point or shooting guard position. Sadler was the starting point guard last season, but is more of a natural wing player.

The point guard position will be in the hands of sophomore Jackie Ward and freshman Andrea Holmes. Ward started four games early last season while Sadler was struggling with injuries. Holmes arrives from Memphis, where she averaged 24 points, seven assists, four rebounds and two steals per game as a senior at Mitchell High School.

Freshman guard Orla O’Reilly arrives from Cork, Ireland. She was named the Irish Examiner National Junior Sports Star of the Year in 2007.

The Bearcats’ best defensive player in the backcourt is junior Darryll Peterson.

Senior center Laura Franceski is the Bearcats’ top player in the post. Last season, she averaged 9.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game.

Franceski scored a career-high 27 points against UMBC on Jan. 16 and was named the America East Player of the Week five days later.

“Laura is obviously going to be one of our top scorers as well as one of the top players in the (America East) conference,” Scholl said. “She has a dominating presence inside and a quiet confidence about her this year.”

Senior center Erin Owens has been a reserve the past three seasons but has become one of the most respected players on the team. Her role on the floor will increase this year and she is one of the three team captains (along with Franceski and Sadler).

With a pair of seniors having graduated last season, the forward position is up for grabs. Junior Theodora Panteli and sophomore Jaki Goldner are the top returnees, while freshmen Viive Rebane, Kiara Conner and Sinead O’Reilly are the key newcomers.

Panteli struggled with injuries last season and appeared in only six games. Still, she has returned healthy and has already shown significant improvement in her game. With three senior post players last season, Goldner did not get out on the floor much last season.

The experience she gained practicing with those players helped her get ready for this season.

Rebane, who arrives from Estonia, played the last two years in her country’s Championship League. Conner arrives from Chicago, where she was named all-conference, All-City and All-Suburban in helping her team win the Illinois Class 4A state championship. O’Reilly also comes from the Urusline School in Cork, Ireland. Like her sister Orla, Sinead O’Reilly was a co-captain of the Under-16 Irish National Team.

Binghamton opens up its season at St. Bonaventure on Nov. 14. The highlight of non-conference play, however, will be a Dec. 13 game at Miami (Fla.) of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Conference play starts on Jan. 7 with a game at defending champion Hartford. It will mark the beginning of what Scholl sees as another competitive season in the America East.

“The America East seems to be more and more competitive every year,” she said. “Hartford and Vermont should once again be at the top with Boston not too far behind. All three of those teams return a lot of experience and a lot of leadership. After that, I think it is pretty wide open.”

Coming next week: Men’s basketball preview.

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Last Updated: 10/14/08