LEWISTON, Maine -- Entering his 18th season as the head coach of the Bates women's basketball team, Jim Murphy '69 thinks he may see something in the 2011-12 team's preseason practices that he hasn't seen before.
"Practices have been unbelievable, in terms of effort," he said, smiling. "Every day it's been non-stop running up and down, up and down the floor, diving for loose balls. I couldn't ask for more."
What the Bobcats may lack in height compared to past seasons, they hope to make up for in speed, pressure defense and non-stop hustle. Murphy anticipates as many as 10 or 11 players rotating in and out of a given game.
One player sure to still see the lion's share of time at the point guard position is senior captain Annie Burns (Topsfield, Mass.), one of the top playmakers in Division III and the NESCAC conference assists leader in each of the past two seasons. Burns, who was named the All-NESCAC Women's Soccer Second Team goalkeeper, also led the NESCAC last season in steals per game.
Fellow senior captain Lauren Dobish (Chambersburg, Pa.) made big strides last season, not only alleviating some of Burns' ballhandling duties but raising her scoring from 3.9 to 9.3 points per game and her three-point shooting from .306 (11-36) to .416 (32-77),
A third senior captain, guard Kelsey Flaherty (South Portland, Maine), was off to a good start after 16 games last year, but an injury ended her season prematurely. A tough and solid all-around player, Flaherty is back at full health and may play three or four different positions, depending on the situation. Bates boasts similar versatility and aggressiveness in 5-10 junior forward Taryn O'Connell (Georgetown, Mass.), who has averaged 6.6 points and 3.3 rebounds in 16.5 minutes per game over 51 contests in her career.
Junior guard Allie Beaulieu (Swampscott, Mass.), Bates' leading scorer at 11.3 points per game as the Bobcats went 17-8 in the 2010-11 season, has already scored 593 points through the first 51 games of her career. The sharpshooting Beaulieu raised her three-point percentage to .402 (51-127) from .391 the year before, another big reason the Bobcats were the best three-point shooting squad in program history, at .378. Bates lost to graduation its top two rebounders last season, Jessie Igoe and Christine McCall, but Beaulieu was also a big help on the boards with 4.2 per game.
Sophomore Meredith Kelly (Cohasset, Mass.) is expected to continue in her electric role off the bench. The 5-8 guard won NESCAC Rookie of the Year honors last year: she played in all 25 of Bates' games last season, scoring 7.6 points per game on .476 shooting while grabbing 2.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals per contest. Kelly topped all rookies in the conference in scoring and field goal percentage, and her tenacious perimeter defense and athleticism will be a big factor in Bates' plans to create turnovers and run.
Junior 6-0 center Brianna Hawkins (South Portland, Maine) has played a significant role already in her two years, and it's likely to increase this season. Hawkins, who came off the bench in all 25 games last year, averaging 6.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.3 steals and shooting .573 from the field in 17 minutes per game, is likely to start at center in Bates' opener. Meanwhile, first-year 5-11 center Allaina Murphy (Poland Spring, Maine) has been impressive in practices and should earn significant minutes in the post.
Other first-year standouts who may see minutes right away include 5-9 forward Molly Brown (South Dartmouth, Mass.), 5-4 guard Kristin Calvo (South Deerfield, Mass.) and 5-10 forward Hillary Throckmorton (Bangor, Maine).
There may be another player or two on the roster who will also earn some playing time -- they include sophomore center Callie Cramer (Dedham, Mass.), sophomore forward Simone Prioli (South Hamilton, Mass.) and first-year forward Nicki Brill (Westport, Conn.).