Coming off their first North Coast Athletic Conference Tournament appearance in three seasons, The College of Wooster women's basketball team kicks off the 2017-18 campaign on Nov. 15 against Geneva College with a trio of returning seniors, an experienced backcourt and a dense frontcourt filled with youthful height.
Head Coach Lisa Panepento expects this year's line-up, combined with a new-look offense and full-court press, to continue to compete against the top half of the NCAC and remain in contention for the conference tournament come late-February.
"I definitely think how we played down the stretch showed what we are capable of," Panepento said. "It's a new year for me and this great group of student-athletes. We are such a different team when it comes to our roster, with almost 50 percent of our players new to the program. We have a lot of youth to go along with a big post-presence this team now has."
At 6'0", junior Christina Vukovich returns as the Fighting Scots' leading rebounder (5.3) and shot-blocker (1.0). With 12 starts in 23 appearances, Vukovich proved capable on the offensive boards as well, posting a top-five average in the NCAC (2.4) to go along with her top-10 average in blocks. The junior posted a career-high 14 points against Geneva last season and backed that up with her first career double-double (12 points, 12 rebounds) against Muskingum University a few weeks later.
Returning alongside Vukovich is sophomore Courtney Lockhart, who appeared in all 26 games as a go-to reserve, particularly on the defensive end. The Bedford, Ohio native provided valuable athleticism in the post, marked by a season-best eight rebounds against Oberlin College, while steadily increasing as an offensive threat by season's end.
Senior Katie Mandych, who proved her ability as a stretch-four player with a career-high 10 three-pointers on the season, continued to showcase her development and physicality as another pick-and-pop player in addition to her post duties. The senior out of East Aurora, N.Y. pulled down 2.3 rebounds per game, up slightly from the year prior and put up a career-best 10 points on 5-of-9 shooting against La Roche College before tallying eight points at DePauw University, the eventual conference tournament champion, in the first round of the NCAC Tournament.
Sophomore Aubri McKoy, who made six starts before suffering a season-ending Achilles injury, provided a significant offensive threat through eight appearances as a first-year, highlighted by a season-high 14 points and eight boards in the season opener. The first-year tallied eight or more points three additional times on top of a five-rebound performance against Albion College in the Nan Nichols Classic.
Additionally, Eleni Miliotou, the first-year player out of Nicosia Latsia, Cyprus, will continue to earn valuable experience behind a host of starters after making two appearances in her first full-year stateside.
Frontcourt newcomers are abundant for the 2017-18 campaign, as Panepento and Co. look to employ the newly-arrived height from the get-go in conjunction with the Scots' new-look offensive system.
Led by All-NCAC junior Anna Gibbs, the Scots enter November with options at the point position in addition to a set of three-point threats.
Starting with Gibbs, the junior out of Gahnna, Ohio continued to serve as Wooster's primary offensive catalyst with a team-high 12.4 points, 3.0 assists and 1.8 steals in 34.3 minutes per game. Gibbs' offensive best came via a career-high 26-point performance against Muskingum last year, as the junior led or co-led Wooster in 13 of 26 contests. From the foul line, she led the team with 94 attempts, hitting 75 percent.
As for kick-out options, senior Aki Shurelds became one of the Scots' go-to deep threats while, in all, taking on a more significant scoring role with 7.9 points on 7.5 shots per game. The senior Californian reached double figures 10 times, highlighted by a career-best 23 points against Case Western Reserve University, as the senior knocked down seven 3-pointers to tie the single-game program record. Shureld's .312 three-point average ranked 10th in the NCAC while her 43 three's stood as the league's sixth-highest total. A consistent free-throw shooter, Shurelds was 27-33 (.818) from the line, the highest among the team.
Sophomore Kylie Orr came on mid-way through the season, seemingly sparked by a break-out 26-point performance against La Roche, which witnessed the Newport, Ky. native go 7-for-12 from the field, including 5-for-8 from three-point range and a perfect 7-for-7 from the foul line. On the year, Orr managed 7.3 points in just under 16 minutes, shooting .346 from the field while coming off the bench in all but two games.
Other immediate contributors at the two-guard position include sophomores Cat Fiorito and Akwia Tilton. Fiorito averaged an even 6.0 points in 24 overall appearances, 20 of which were starts. The guard pulled down 108 boards, third-most on the team, while shooting .698 (37-53) from the foul line. Scoring-wise, Fiorito's impact progressed by season's end before eventually leading Wooster in shooting percentage (.386). An immediate presence on both ends, Fiorito was third on the team in steals (29) and fourth in rebounding average (4.5) while managing to post double-figure scoring marks twice before a breakout 22-point performance in the Scots' win against Allegheny College. Additionally, the Goshen, Ky. native led the Scots in the NCAC Quarterfinal against DePauw, totaling 19 points on 13 shots, including 3-for-5 from beyond the arc.
Tilton, whose speed and aggressiveness did not go unnoticed on the stats sheet, recorded a team-high 131 rebounds in 25 appearances for a 5.2 average. Second on the team in steals (30), Tilton turned in five games with at least eight rebounds, including a season-high nine against Case Western Reserve and La Roche. A considerable threat in transition, Tilton, who earned All-NCAC honors in the indoor long jump and outdoor 200 meters during the 2017 track & field season, is expected to continue utilizing her speed as an outlet threat.
Other returnees who did not play in 2016-17 include senior Hannah Kiser and junior Kyle Croxton. Kiser, a local out of Apple Creek, Ohio, missed all of last season with an ACL injury. A year prior, the then-sophomore made 13 appearances after providing reserve minutes as a first-year. A reliable foul shooter, Kiser holds a career .846 average from the stripe (22-for-26). Croxton, an all-around guard, returns to the court after averaging 4.1 points in five starts on 15 appearances in 2015-16. A consistent shooter at .396 (19-for-48), Croxton adds depth and skill to the guard position, as well as a solid free-throw presence (14-for-20) while going 10-for-23 (.435) from three-point range.
Following the Nov. 15 season-opener against Geneva, Wooster continues its five-game home stretch at the Nan Nichols Classic, as the Scots play host to Alma College (Nov. 18) and Baldwin Wallace University (Nov. 19).