Season Preview: Storm Gears Up for Tough Schedule in 2009-10

The Lake Erie College women's basketball team played one of the most grueling, difficult schedules in the country in its first year at the NCAA Division II level last year. With 19 games on the road, including 10 of the first 12, the Storm faced a tall mountain to climb toward a successful season.  

Just don't tell the players.  

"As coaches we're aware of what we're doing to them," Storm head coach Bob Booher said. "As players, are they aware? No."  

The Storm, entering its second year at the Division II level will play similar competition this year as the unit looks to improve on its 6-21 mark from 2008-09 when the Storm played some of the top teams in Division II on the road, like 2008 national champs Northern Kentucky, Grand Valley State, Findlay, Gannon and California (Pa.).  

This year, Booher has loaded the schedule with top teams as well, including two games against Division I opponents on the road at Akron and Cleveland State. The Storm also has games against nationally-ranked Division II California (Pa.), Indiana (Pa.) and Grand Valley State.  

But, according to Booher, the difficult schedule doesn't matter much to the players, who really don't have an idea of how difficult of a schedule they are playing.

"They're oblivious to it," said Booher. "Somebody shows up on the schedule, we're either on the road or we're at home and they're going to play the game. The fact that Northern Kentucky was the defending national champs. What does that mean to them? They're a basketball team just like we are."  

In 2010-11, the Storm will start an annual trek through the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference schedule when it joins that conference, which consistently sends multiple teams into the Division II national tournament. This season, like last, will prepare the Storm for the future.  

"I believe in what I hear about the GLIAC and how strong that conference is," Booher said. "The GLIAC schedule is going to be tough, but is it going to be any tougher than what this team's been through the first two years? This year and last year were really, really difficult."  

Fortunately for Lake Erie, the Storm return all five starters  and top scorers from last season, including senior guard  and All-Independent College Athletic Association 2nd-team pick Renese Ames (Bedford, Ohio/Bedford), who averaged 13.1 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.3 steals per game. Ames, last year's leading scorer, will be the lone senior on the floor for the Storm.  

"I'm hoping that Renese becomes more efficient as a scorer and continues to score at the level she did last year," said Booher. "We just need her to be more efficient putting the ball in the basket."  

Lake Erie returns last season's leading rebounder, junior 5-9 forward Alyssa Wagers (Stow, Ohio/Stow), who comes back after a season in which she scored more than eight points per game and grabbed a team-high 8.6 boards. She was named as this season's team captain and Booher expects her to be a leader on the floor.

"Wagers is a battler on the floor," said Booher. "She's one of those people who is going to fight for loose balls, fight for rebounds and get involved physically, emotionally and verbally as a leader."  

The Storm also returns 6-foot-1 sophomore center Stephanie Rogers (Mentor, Ohio/Mentor), who averaged almost 12 points and 6.5 rebounds per game last season when she was named the ICAA Freshman of the Year.  

Sophomore forward Jen Caiola (South Russell, Ohio/Chagrin Falls) returns as the top three-point shooter for the Storm. She drilled 47 threes last season and hit 84 percent of her free throws, while averaging 10 points per game.   Sophomore guard Britt Busson (Wadsworth, Ohio/Wadsworth) is the final starter returning to Booher's squad. She averaged 7.2 points per game a season ago.  

With all five starters returning, the Storm will see the biggest difference simply in the improvements the returners made while playing their tough schedule last season and through their work this offseason.  

"I'm really happy with the strides that the starters, really all our returners, have taken," Booher said. "All of them have taken another step as basketball players. We're going to be a better basketball team than we were last year. That step has been a great one."  

Lake Erie will also have additionally strong players coming off the bench, including freshman guard Sarah Wojciechowski (Randolph, Ohio/Waterloo) and freshman center Samantha McKinney (Willowick, Ohio/Eastlake North).  

Junior guard Brittany Zele (Geneva, Ohio/Geneva), who averaged 4.5 points per game in 2007-08, but missed last season, and junior forward Katelyn Prince (Thompson, Ohio/Ledgemont) will also bolster a bench unit that struggled scoring last season.  

"The addition of their firepower coming off the bench is going to be very positive," Booher said. "I think I can go to the bench for longer stretches this year and get more production than we did last year."  

With a team that includes nine sophomores and freshmen, no matter what rotation Booher uses, it will be one that has youth throughout.  

"We really don't have a veteran presence," he said. "Our veterans are sophomores. They're still on the younger half of their college careers. But that's the fun part. We're looking at the growth."  

And they will still be handling that tough schedule, which also features five instances of playing games in back-to-back days, beginning with the Wheeling Jesuit Tip-Off Classic to open the regular season Nov. 15 and 16. Playing in that type of back-to-back style tournament will force Booher to go to the bench and find out what kind of depth resides on it.  

"There will be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow if we're successful," Booher said about future conference play and postseason possibilities. "Right now that's not out there, so we're just playing and trying to get better."  

Last year's 6-21 record may not look like much to a casual observer, but the constant improvements and the look ahead to the future will make this year's squad a fun bunch to watch.  

The Storm are not only trying to win basketball games, but the players are also working hard in the classroom, achieving a 3.47 team GPA last season.  

"From an academic standpoint, they were a huge, huge success," Booher said. "Even though I'm a basketball coach, they're here for an education. They won a lot last year on the academic court. But then as a coach, do I want to win? Oh my gosh...why bother playing if we're not going to win?"  

And despite the youth and the difficult schedule, that's exactly what the Storm will be looking to do.