Saturday, July 16, 2011

An Embarrasment of Riches

There's no other way to describe the St. Thomas women's basketball program right now but "an embarrassment of riches." The defending MIAC regular season champions return 7 women who played 10 minutes or more and scored 46.5 points per game among them. Two of them, Maggie Weiers and Taylor Young are entering their sophomore years after scoring almost 20 points per game between them as freshmen. Coming out of high school, they were generally regarded as Division 1 prospects. The MIAC is too good for them to "dominate," but they'll be among the top half dozen players in the conference the next 3 years.

So, with all of that talent on hand, what have the Tommies done? They've added a freshman class that, playing as a unit, wouldn't finish last in the MIAC. There's 6-3 post Abbey Knisely of New London-Spicer and forwards Anna Smith of Bloomington Jefferson and Laura Margarit of Holy Angels. And at guard you've got the next 2 Tommies stars, Jenna Dockter from Eastview and Carley Emery of Siren, WI. They won't start together for at least a year, but one day they might be remembered as one of the the MIAC's best guard tandems ever. Dockter, for sure, is going to rip it up at this level.

Center--Knisely will battle Roz Chromy (Esko) and Courtney Falk for back-up minutes to Weiers (New Prague).

Big Forward--Anna Smith will battle Maggie Bryant (Sartell) and Emmy Eschrich (Prior Lake) for back-up minutes to Sarah Smith. Sarah, by the way, would be a star in most places, having scored 9 points on 58 percent shooting with 6 rebounds a year ago.

Small Forward--Taylor Young (Edina) and Ali Johnson (St. Louis Park) will keep Margarit mostly on the bench during her (Margarit's) freshman year. Johnson is a former starter, having relinquished that spot when Young came aboard.

Point Guard--Caroline Dienhart (Cretin) will handle the point again with Kellie Ring in reserve. The 2 combined for 36 minutes, 3 assists and 3 boards last year despite a composite 36 percent shooting percentage. But the Tommies don't need scoring from the point to win.

Shooting Guard--Kelly Brandenburg will start early on, but either Dockter or Emery figures to be starting before March. There's an outside chance that Dockter could play the point, and both Dockter and Emery could be starting by the time the playoffs open up.

So, there, I've named 16 girls, all of whom can play. But just imagine a team that has upgraded from, say, Ali Johnson (8 ppg, 41 percent shooting, 3 boards and 1 assist) to Taylor Young (11, 46, 4 and 2 and 2 years younger). Then figure they've done the same, or better, at both guard slots, while returning 17.5 ppg on 54 percent shooting between the 2 bigs. And then figure that this is a team that went 18-4 a year ago.

Voila! You've got a team that could go 22-0 in the MIAC this year, though 20-2 is probably more realistic.

On the other side of the coin, this is a team that lost the MIAC playoff final at home to Concordia 71-61 last year and barely got by Gustavus 50-48 in the semis. Poor shooting was the culprit in both playoff games, especially against Concordia when Rachel Booth, Sarah Smith and Weiers combined for a just 3 FG. The fact is that the Tommies didn't have too many ways to score from the perimeter.

But with Taylor Young now having a year's experience and with Dockter and Emery on board, the Tommies figure to make it harder for teams to concentrate their defensive efforts inside. They'll take a giant step toward a return to national prominence in 2011-2012.

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