Returning four of five starters from last years ECAC-New England champion team, this year’s women’s basketball team should be a force to be reckoned with. The Ephs started off their season on the right track with their own Tip-Off tournament, easily defeating Simmons College 84-46 in the first game and William Patterson College 73-54 in the championship game.
Coach Pat Manning thought the team played well this weekend and was especially proud of the win over William Patterson. “[William Patterson] made it to the NCAA Sweet 16 last season and are ranked #20 in the nation in the pre-season polls. So it was a huge win for us,” Manning said.
In the first game against Simmons the Ephs were led by co-captain Kathleen Higgins ’99 who scored 19 points, had four assists and secured three rebounds. Sparked by tough defense and three-pointers from Higgins and guard Robyn Goldman ’01 (18 points), Williams opened up an 18-4 lead in the first ten minutes of the game.
Simmons drew to within seven at one point in the first half and later cut a 22-point Eph bulge to 11 just 30 seconds before the break. However, a pair of Rebecca Brooks ’00 (10 points, 10 rebounds) foul shots and a Higgins three-pointer at the buzzer gave Williams a 39-23 halftime lead.
The Ephs started the second half with another huge 20-4 run to put the game out of reach for Simmons. Also leading the way for the Ephs in scoring were point-guard Liz Tilley ’01 who finished with eight points and eight assists and Laura Brenneman ’99 who finished with seven points and four rebounds.
The next day, the Ephs came out with a strong run-and-gun offense highlighted by their superb passing skills. The Ephs dominated the paint against a much smaller, but quick Patterson team helping them secure the win.
Brooks led the team with 17 points and four rebounds helping her earn the honor of tournament MVP for her performance. Aided by Higgins’ 13 points and eight boards, Brooks and center co-captain Erin Duffy ’99 dominated the paint. Duffy added 15 points, four boards, and two blocks in the win.
Tilley led an energized defense neutralizing William Paterson’s Stephanie Arrigo, who was held to six points after a 25 point performance in the first round against the University of New England. Tilley finished with six points and two assists.
Higgins felt that the team played well this weekend and is eagerly anticipating the rest of the season. “I think that potentially we have a very good basketball team but the key for us will be to find a way to maximize that potential. Taking into consideration the fact that it was our opening weekend, I think we did a lot of good things. We had some pretty big lapses both offensively and defensively but overall our performance was encouraging,” said Higgins.
Higgins headlines the list of returnees from last season’s team who set a new record for Williams women’s basketball with 23 wins.
Higgins, the NESCAC player of the Year in 1998 and a First Team All-New England selection, is the first women’s player at Williams to qualify for the All-America ballot. In 27 games last winter, Higgins netted 455 points (16.9), averaged five rebounds a game, posted a team-high in assists (81) and was second in steals (56).
Higgins needs 225 points to surpass Nancy Hedeman ’89 in points (1,472) and 58 assists to take over the top spot from Kim Hatch ’88. Grabbing 61 rebounds this season would make Higgins the first Eph women’s player to graduate ranked in the top ten in points, rebounds and assists.
Also returning is the versatile Brenneman who is a defense stopper who also has the knack to knock down a three. Brenneman averaged 7.7 ppg last year and is a perennial selection on the Academic All-NESCAC team.
Duffy, the all-time shot block leader (195) at Williams, also returns along with Brooks to give the Ephs a potent inside game. Last year Duffy blocked 74 (2.7/game) shots while averaging 8.3 points and six rebounds a game. Brooks was second on the team in scoring in 1997-98 with 358 points (13.8) and collected a team-high 255 rebounds (9.4) and also led the Ephs in steals (60).
Tilley is set to assume the controls of the Eph offense in her role of starting point guard. Tilley played just over 10 minutes a game last season which will give her the confidence and experience to direct the Eph attack.
The Ephs open the 1998-99 season with a seven-game win streak and with just seven more wins the program will claim its three-hundredth win, but the Ephs want more.
Manning expressed this year’s goal is a return to the NCAA tournament where the Ephs hope to go further than they did in 1997 when they lost in the second round.
“I was very pleased with our defensive intensity. But we have a huge test on Tuesday against Skidmore. They beat us last year 77-66. NESCAC is the strongest league in New England this season, so we have a lot of work to do to prepare for our league schedule. I am confident that our team will rise to the challenge and am very pleased with the leadership of our seniors,” said Manning.
Williams hosts Skidmore at 7:30 this Tuesday at Chandler Gym.