Women's basketball preview: Scrappy, feisty Bobcats open Friday at MMA

Allaina Murphy '15 is the lone returning frontcourt player to the Bates women's basketball roster for the 2013-14 season. File photo by Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College

The fourth in a series of previews featuring winter teams which begin competition in November. Previous previews include men's squashwomen's squash and men's basketball. Be on the lookout for our season preview on swimming and diving.

LEWISTON, Maine -- Jim Murphy '69 was already well aware that his 20th season as head coach of the Bates women's basketball team would not involve a large roster. 

Then Molly Brown went down in October. The talented, 5-foot-9 junior guard/forward, who has already scored 399 points in only 32 career games (12.5 ppg), suffered an injury while playing pickup ball that will keep her out of any lineup Murphy would ever want to put her in this season. However, Brown still participates in non-contact drills, which only serves to bury the dagger in Murphy's chest a little deeper with every swish that rolls off her fingertips.

Certainly, all is not lost. There are some very strong players who will trot onto the floor on Friday night, when the Bobcats face Mount Holyoke on the opening night ofthe Maine Maritime Academy Tipoff Tournament. (The winner will face Friday's winner between MMA and Simmons on Saturday.) Moreover, Murphy raves about the character of the team. But Bates is likely to be smaller than its opponents in many games this season, and its depth will certainly be put to the test should any other injuries occur.

"We lose one more player, and aye-yi-yi-yi -- it could be tough," Murphy said in an interview last week.

One silver lining is, the team has kind of been through this already, just a year ago. Not for a single minute of a single game in 2012-13 was Murphy able to put his best lineup on the floor. Injuries to Meredith Kelly '14 (Cohasset, Mass.), Chelsea Nason '16 (Topsfield, Mass.), Brown (South Dartmouth, Mass.) and Kristin Calvo '15 (South Deerfield, Mass.) all conspired to impose strings of 40-minute games for some of the team's top remaining players, such as the now-graduated trio of Allie Beaulieu, Brianna Hawkins and Taryn O'Connell. The Bobcats had their moments, but ultimately settled for a 12-12 record.

The Bobcats sport 12 players on their current roster, including Brown and first-year center Kate Moody (Charlottesville, Va.), who will be eligible to return from injury to action on Nov. 21. Four sophomores dot the roster, although three of them weren't on the team last season: guards Leah Humes (Beaconsfield, Quebec), Kelly Philbrook (Auburn, Maine) and Lupe Vargas (Medford, Ore.). Humes missed any athletic action in her first year at Bates following back surgery, but she debuted impressively on Bates' women's soccer team this fall, leading the team in scoring. In her practice time with the basketball team, Humes' athleticism and quick hands has indicated to the coach that she will be a rotational player.

Friday's starting lineup figures to start the team's four healthy returning stalwarts, in Nason, junior center Allaina Murphy (Poland, Maine), and senior co-captains Kelly and Julia Rafferty (Reading, Mass.), along with  first-year forward Bernadette Connors (Windham, N.H.). 

Kelly is by far the team's most veteran player -- she is already the 27th-leading scorer in program history, with 689 points in 65 games (10.6 ppg), to go with a well-earned reputation for tough perimeter defense. Rafferty joined the team last year and immediately became indispensable as the starting point guard and another defensive weapon. Nason's rookie season last year displayed length, athleticism, a nice three-point shooting touch and strong court smarts. Her confidence in her shooting has improved greatly, which is a good thing because she is likely Bates' top outside shooter. Nason will also be needed for more defense in the post than she saw last year. And Murphy's herky-jerky offensive moves and ability to stretch the defense, as a strong shooter who is also Bates' tallest starter. Connors, a 5-9 forward with good size, shooting and passing ability, "has looked very, very good," says Murphy. 

Humes should see playing time off the bench right away, as will Calvo at the point and 5-11 first-year forward Allie Coppola (Tarrytown, N.Y.) in the post. Murphy calls Coppola big, strong and "tough as nails" -- all qualities the team should find to be highly useful.

Particularly when NESCAC play rolls around in January, Bates is unlikely to be the best rebounding or shooting team out there, so the Bobcats will seek to create as much offense out of aggressive defense as they can. They just may have the right players to do exactly that -- if they can stay on the floor, and if they keep their heads up on the offensive end.

"The team is very personable. They're a lot of fun to be around. They really absorb coaching," said Murphy. "If I could only get them to understand that they're better than they think they are.

"We're undersized by quite a bit, but I think we'll be a scrappy, feisty team."