PASADENA, Calif. (Nov. 18, 2014) – Coming off a third straight improved scoring margin and four single-season program records, the Caltech women's basketball team has its sights set even higher heading into the 2014-15 season.
The Beavers displayed unprecedented offensive efficiency last year, setting program marks in points per game (55.0), three-point percentage (.286), free throw percentage (.645) and assists (307) while bringing the scoring margin a full 23 points closer than just two seasons ago. With seven of the team's top eight starters returning, Head Coach Sandra Marbut only has reason to be optimistic looking ahead to this year.
"Having everyone back is a big help to understanding what we need and what it takes to compete at this level," Marbut said. "A year ago, two-thirds of the team consisted of first- and second-year players. This year, our class distribution is much more balanced. One thing our players get a lot of is playing time, and that is a huge resource for a team. We are battle tested and know what to expect."
First among the returners is Second Team All-SCIAC junior Stephanie Wong (Palos Verdes Estates, Calif. / Palos Verdes Peninsula), who as a rookie in 2012-13 set multiple single season program records, including points per game (15.0) and three-pointers made (66). She will look to build on last season's all-around line of 12.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.6 blocks per game.
Wong again will pair with the squad's only senior, Bridget Connor (Albuquerque, N.M. / Albuquerque Acad.), as the team's leaders. As the only player to start all 25 of the team's games, Connor was the only other Beaver to average double figures in scoring last year at 10.4 points per game while ranking second in assists (1.5) and fourth in rebounds (5.2).
"Stephanie and Bridget are easily the hardest-working women we have had here," Marbut said. "The work these two did in the offseason is a sign of how serious they are taking their leadership role and how they intend to lead by example. Bridget has turned herself into a shooting machine, and every year she has been here she has come back stronger than she left the season before. Stephanie spent all of last season trying to catch up from the pre-season injury that kept her out the first few games, and we saw the residual effect all season. This year, she has been able to settle in from day one, find her stride early and build on it. We expect to see some great games from her as she is in hot pursuit of the 1,000-point milestone."
Junior Kristin Anderson (Folsom, Calif. / St. Francis) and sophomore Kate Lewis (San Antonio, Texas / Ronald Reagan) will handle duties in the frontcourt this year. Anderson led the team with a .418 field goal percentage and 1.0 block per game while pulling down 6.0 rebounds per game, ranking second on the squad. Lewis could be primed for a breakout after leading the team with 7.6 rebounds (2.9 offensive) and ranking third in scoring at 9.4 points per game as a rookie, despite averaging just 25.6 minutes over 17 games, including only 10 starts.
"Both Anderson and Lewis are game tested, having played a big chunk of minutes last year," Marbut said. "That time on the court has already shown through their added maturity displayed in the preseason. What I enjoy the most about these two is they bring different things to the floor and force teams to deal with what each of them does well, while trying to deal with the other one at the same time. They play to each other's strengths too, as Kristen is so consistent and steady and Kate has a great ebb and flow about her. Kate specifically has really grown with a year of experience. I think she got a glimpse of what she can push herself to and liked what she saw. In turn, that has pushed Kristin to keep pace and that is all good stuff for the team."
Junior Esther Du (Walnut, Calif. / Troy) is back at the point after dishing out 3.0 assists per game while also leading the team in steals per game (1.2) and three-point percentage (.381), among those with at least 10 made. Junior Ann Chen (Thousand Oaks, Calif. / Westlake) and sophomore Michelle Wong (Palos Verdes Estates, Calif. / Palos Verdes Peninsula) once again will provide an impact off the bench. The duo combined to average 7.4 points, 2.7 rebounds and 0.9 assists over 29.0 minutes per game backing up the guard spots last season, with Chen hitting 36.7 percent of her three-point attempts and Wong shooting 72.2 percent from the charity stripe.
"This group of guards knows how to use the floor, and with any of the three able to run the offense, distribute the ball and hit the three, it gives us our biggest source of depth," Marbut said. "Michelle has made tremendous strides in her game. She arrived at the first practice in great shape and that has given her the luxury to explore her game in new ways and build confidence early in the season. I fully expect Esther to continue helping us create more efficient play by distributing the ball and keeping it in our possession. Her versatility is a threat and any night she can come up big. The trio wouldn't be complete without Annie's ability to put slash and score from any spot on the floor, putting pressure on help rotations. The guards can be really fun to watch!"
Sophomores Mary Boyajian (Sun Valley, Calif. / Village Christian) and Yanbing Zhu (Cupertino, Calif. / Monta Vista) will look to play their way into a thin rotation and will likely see their fair share of minutes.
"I couldn't be more proud of Mary and how she has prepared for the season ahead. She wanted to play a bigger part in the core of what we are doing and she will get a chance to do exactly that. Her passing skills are some of the best we have had here, and I see her continuing to mature on the court every day. Yan Bing's arrival was a complete surprise; she just appeared in my doorway one day wanting to play. By day two of her tryout, it was clear that her smile and positive energy were exactly what we needed to remind us all of the joy we experience playing together as a group. While she is still learning the nuances of the game, she is the type of hard worker who inspires everyone to step up."
"Heading into a season with such a small roster seems daunting, but that is often the time you learn and enjoy the most," Marbut said. "Having such a small squad will give everyone a chance to put together some of the most heroic efforts and greatest performances in our program's history. We will play hard, play with heart and compete our best every single night. We have a mission and it is satisfied only when we compete."
The Beavers open the season with a two-game slate in the Portland, Ore. area this weekend, beginning at Willamette University (1-1) on Friday, Nov. 21 at 6 p.m. Their home opener will follow just a few days later against the Wildcats of Linfield College on Wednesday, Nov. 26 at 6 p.m.