With a number of key pieces returning and some additions that can make an immediate contribution, the Case Western Reserve University women's basketball team will look to make a major stride forward when it takes the court for the 2018-19 season with three 1,000-point scorers in its lineup.
Forced to deal with a number of injuries to starting players last year, the Spartans finished the 2017-18 season with an overall record of 4-20, including a 1-13 mark in the University Athletic Association, and were picked to finish seventh in the conference this year. However, with players such as graduate student Kara Hageman and senior Hillary Hellmann set to return, Case Western Reserve could be poised to surprise its opponents in the upcoming season.
"With continued good health, this year's squad has depth and the ability to score in different ways," said Head Coach Jennifer Reimer, who will be starting her 12th season at the team's helm in 2018-19. "To be successful, we'll need to be a great defensive team and limit our turnovers."
A total of nine players will be returning from last year's team, six of whom started at least 12 games. In addition, the Spartans will be adding eight freshman players and a graduate transfer to the roster, increasing the team's talent and depth for the upcoming campaign.
"Our primary focus right now is to get better each day," said Reimer. "We want to win each possession we play and have incredible competition in each practice. This team is focused on the process and staying in the moment."
The Spartans' 2018-19 lineup will feature a pair of career 1,000-point scorers in Hageman and Hellmann. Hageman, who was an All-UAA First Team and All-Region Third Team selection as a junior, will be returning to the team after missing all of the 2017-18 campaign following a season-ending injury during the preseason. The forward will enter her graduate season 12th in program history with 1,034 points.
"It's amazing to have Kara back," said Reimer. "Honestly, each day feels like we've been given a gift. To come from a place last year when we thought her career had ended, to now, is incredible."
Hellmann, a guard/forward combo, was an all-conference second team selection as a junior after leading the team with 16.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per game last season. She currently sits just eight three-pointers away from matching the program's career record of 179, and is eighth in the program's history with 1,156 career points.
"Hillary is without question one of the best shooters in all of Division III basketball," said Reimer. "She hits big shots when our team needs her to. You'll see her raise her game this year at the defensive end - she's been working incredibly hard at that end of the floor."
In addition to the Hageman and Hellmann, junior guard Kendall McConico will add to the team's offensive attack, returning after averaging 10.4 points per game and shooting 45.6% overall from the floor last season. Junior Alicia Marie Gonzales started the first 37 games of her career at point guard for the Spartans, before seeing her 2017-18 season cut short after 13 games due to injury, and will be looking to make a strong return this season. Both sophomore forward Emma Cain and sophomore guard Emily Todd had starting experience as freshman, and will look to take a step forward in 2018-19. Cain averaged 7.0 points, 4.6 rebounds and a team-leading 1.3 steals per game, while Todd scored 8.6 points per game with 1.7 assists per contest as a freshman.
"Kendall put in a lot of work this offseason and you'll see her at a different level this year," said Reimer. "Alicia is doing a great job running the show, and our sophomores have been fabulous in practice. They all had solid game experience as freshmen last year, and you can see it impacting their confidence in a positive way."
Also back for CWRU is sophomore forward Rebecca Rowlands, who was second on the team with 4.9 rebounds per game last season, sophomore guard Jasmine Floyd, and sophomore forward Madie Grossman.
The most notable addition for the Spartans is a graduate student transfer in forward Mercedes Jones. Jones joins the Spartans after playing three years at Hiram College, averaging 13.2 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, and totaling 1,030 points over her career. She was named the North Coast Athletic Conference Newcomer of the Year as a freshman, and earned second team all-conference honors as a sophomore, and First Team All-NCAC recognition as a junior.
"Mercedes will make an immediate impact in the post," said Reimer. "She brings her experience and the ability to go inside-out, and she's a wonderful addition to the team."
In addition to Jones, the Spartans' roster will feature eight freshmen looking to make an early impact, including guards Alexa Hsia, Alyssa Hyland, Sunny Nyhus, Hannah Gullo and Abbey Lawrence and forwards Olivia Perkins, Alexis John and Brianna Smith.
"There are a few first-year players who can really score, and it will be exciting to see early on how they adapt to the speed of the college game," said Reimer.
Reimer will enter her 12th season on the team as the program's all-time winningest head coach with 124 career victories at CWRU. She holds a 281-251 all-time record during her 21-year coaching career, which includes stops at Mount Union, Allegheny and Juniata.
Joining Reimer's staff this year will be assistant coach Kelly Muffley, who comes to CWRU after spending the previous year as the assistant coach of her alma mater, Thiel College. Muffley has also coached at Canisius College and St. Lawrence University. In addition, former Spartan Erin Gdaniec will return for her third year on the staff.
The Spartans will also have three former players remaining on the team as student assistant coaches, including Alexis Amburgey, Darby Kreienberg and Megan Shanosky.
As always, the Spartans schedule will be a challenging one, particularly once the squad gets into its UAA slate of games. CWRU is scheduled to play four games against teams ranked in the top-25 nationally in the D3hoops.com Preseason Poll, and another five games against teams that received votes in the organization's first rankings of the season.
The Spartans are set to open up their 2018-19 season at the Greg Richards Tournament at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania on Friday, November 16th at 3:00 p.m. against host Allegheny (which opened its season on Tuesday with a 69-49 win over Waynesburg after going 6-19 in 2017-18) and on Saturday, November 17th at 11:00 a.m. against Chatham (which has started its year 2-0 and will play Franciscan on Wednesday and Ohio Northern on Friday before playing the Spartans). Full coverage of the tournament, including live stats and video of each game, is available at https://portal.stretchinternet.com/allegheny/.
After a road game at Denison on Tuesday, November 20th, the Spartans will begin a three-game home stand at Horsburgh Gymnasium, with games against John Carroll on November 25th, Ohio Northern on November 28th and Baldwin Wallace (which received votes in the preseason poll) on December 8th. After a game at Kenyon on December 10th, the Spartans will travel to Miami Shores, Florida for the 2018 HOOP MIA Holiday Slam, where they will face Thiel and Eastern on December 19th and 20th. Additional non-conference road games for the Spartans include games at Wooster and Chatham in early January.
Case Western Reserve will open its 2019 UAA schedule on the road against Carnegie Mellon on January 5th, before returning home for contests with New York University and Brandeis. The Spartans will then face a challenging stretch of road games against four teams that were either ranked or received votes in the D3hoops.com Preseason Poll – Emory (received votes), Rochester (received votes), seventh-ranked Chicago and 18th-ranked Washington University (Mo.).
CWRU will return home to host its annual Throwback Weekend at Adelbert Gymnasium against Chicago and Washington and February 1st and 3rd, before traveling to NYU and Brandeis the following weekend to conclude its road schedule for the year. The Spartans will close out their 2018-19 regular season at home with games against Emory, Rochester and Carnegie Mellon.
"The energy in the gym has been amazing," said Reimer. "This team loves to compete and we're excited for the season ahead."