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Basketball Women Set To Tip Off Promising Season

(Posted November 18, 2005)

Senior Kristen Kirk is one of a large number of returning veterans for the Juniata basketball team.

Huntingdon, PA - A year ago, not much was expected from the Juniata women's basketball team. The team had no seniors and was loaded with inexperienced freshmen. The team struggled throughout the season, losing a handful of close games and ultimately finishing with a 5-20 record.

Fast-forward one year. With a year of games now under their belts, the current sophomore class is primed for a breakthrough year. An experienced and battle-tested group of seniors should provide leadership and toughness. Throw in the mix several energetic and talented freshmen, and expectations couldn't be different from a season ago.

"It's amazing what a year of experience can do for the girls," head coach Danny Young said. "They've seen what they can do, and they know their potential. They're pretty excited about that about the opportunity to put it all together."

Young, now in her third season on the sidelines for Juniata, feels she knows this year's team better than any of her team's in year's past. That familiarity has allowed a trust and dialogue between the players and coach that should go a long way to helping Juniata become successful.

"I know what gets them fired up. I'm starting to learn what motivates them. If I do something or if something happens, I definitely can tell how theses girls are going to react," she said. "My coaching style is very democratic. I allow them to make suggestions and things like that. Now, ultimately, it's my say. But they are definitely more prone this year to make suggestions and I think that that gives a sense of completeness and unity."

Juniata will once again be looking to take advantage of their athleticism both offensively and defensively. On the offensive side of the ball, the Eagles will look to get out in transition and push the ball as much as possible. The Eagles will look to create easy baskets for themselves on the defensive side as well. With 16 players all capable of playing solid minutes, Juniata now has the depth to press for an entire game, and will be continually changing defenses throughout the course of a game.

Sophomores Jill Walsh (Ferndale/Johnstown), who started every game last season, and Mindy Werner (West York/York), the team's leader in assists, will run the show from the point guard position. It will be their jobs to direct traffic and make sure the right people get the ball at the right times. As opposed to a year ago, Juniata's offense will be much less structured, giving the players the freedom to make plays. This freelance style makes Walsh's and Werner's decision making ability all the more important.

The Eagles also return three players who averaged double figures in points last season. The team's top scorer, sophomore Jess Winemiller (Dallastown/York), will likely be the focal point of the offensive attack. As last year's Commonwealth Conference Rookie of the Year, she found ways to score but was also skilled enough to create shots for her teammates.

Juniata's other two top scorer's are both entering their senior seasons. Kristen Kirk (Newport/Newport) and Katie O'Brien (South Western/Hanover) have both been mainstays in the Juniata program. Kirk, two year's removed from an all-conference selection, is a dead-eye shooter from beyond the arc and a crafty scorer when she penetrates. O'Brien enjoyed a breakout season last year, and should continue to expand her game this season.

Winemiller, O'Brien and Kirk should remain Juniata's most consistent scoring threats. For the Eagle's to be successful, however, they will have to find options beyond those three. Sophomore Courtney Callas (Freeport/Sarver), Juniata's most athletic swing player, should be able to take advantage of the Eagle's running game. Ali Meckey (Bishop Carroll/Ebensburg), another sophomore, was among the conference leaders in three-point field goal percentage a year ago and will stretch defenses with her ability to connect from deep. Senior Lesly Snoby (Johnstown/Johnstown) will score in a variety of ways, from loose balls to offensive rebounding to knocking down open shots. Sophomore Katie Rhoads (Hempfield/Landisville) should also be a solid contributor as her minutes increase.

The Eagles have also added to the team's depth by bringing in six first-year players. All six are capable of earning playing time in their inaugural seasons.

Despite last season's record, the team is bursting with confidence. While this could be perceived as a negative or unwarranted, Young is enjoying the team's newfound confidence.

"I think we needed to add a little bit of confidence," she said "There's a fine line between being confident and being cocky but I definitely demand some amount of confidence from them, because if you're not confident about what you're doing, you might as well not even do it. Because you can accomplish a lot just by being confident about what you are doing."

A season ago, the young Eagles squad played hard, but it didn't always translate into victories. This season, she wants her team to finally get over that hump, and she believes they have the talent to do it.

"The girls all played and worked extremely hard last season, but it didn't translate into wins," Young said. "This team here has the potential to be better than any team here at Juniata for at least 20 years. And that's exiting. That's real exciting."

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Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.