PRESQUE ISLE – The UMPI women's basketball team will play its first game of the 2011-2012 season this Tuesday, November 15th when they travel to Maine Maritime Academy for a 5:30 tip against the Mariners. But to say that's when the action will begin would not be accurate. The "action" for this year's Owl team began as soon as students returned to campus this year. Looking to build on an 11-12 record last season (9-3 in the now defunct Sunrise Conference) returning players wasted no time hitting the gyms at both Wieden and Gentile Halls to begin working on conditioning and skill development for the upcoming season.
Much of the team had not even met their new coach, Marc Heidorf, yet as he was still making the trek from his native Wisconsin after being named head coach in late August.
"I have been impressed with the leadership and investment of the players in this program since I arrived on campus," said Heidorf, "we knew we had some learning to do about each other that wasn't going to be able to start in earnest until October 15th (the first day of practice). But what they could control was kind of shape they were in and readiness to play by that date. In that regard, I don't think we could have been more ready to get started."
Heidorf takes over for Tracy Guerrette, who left the program after four seasons with the Owls. In his first campaign at UMPI, he will have 6 players (3 starters) returning from the 2010-2011 squad.
Emily Moore (PG/Lisbon, ME) will be the lone senior for the young Owls. Moore led the team with 69 assists a season ago. A co-captain on this year's team, she will look to provide on-court leadership as the team's starting point guard.
"In Emily we have a smart player that will make sure the team maintains its focus throughout the season," Heidorf offered, "usually by the time you are a senior your game is fully developed but I have seen Emily add to her skillset already that stats or film from last year wouldn't suggest she had."
Emily Pelletier (G/Fort Kent, ME) led the Owls in scoring a year ago with 11.4 points per game. Pelletier shot 44% from 3-point range, hitting 71 "treys" to lead the team in that category. The daughter of a coach and a student of the game, Pelletier is out to prove that she is not a one-dimensional player.
"Here's a kid (Pelletier) that hits free throws at an 85% clip," Heidorf explained, "I think she understands that because of the reputation that she has earned as a 3-point shooter, defenses are going to fly at her trying to take away that shot. The next step in the evolution of her game is to take the ball to the basket and draw fouls. If she can do that, she becomes nearly impossible to guard."
Sophomore Rashell Saucier (F/Washburn, ME) had a highly acclaimed freshman year at UMPI. At various points last season Saucier won rookie honors awarded by the NCAA, NAIA, and MWBCA (Maine Women's Basketball Coaches' Association). Saucier averaged 11 points, second only to Pelletier on the team, and led the Owls with 7.4 rebounds per game. So what does she do for an encore?
"'Rash' has the natural ability and work ethic to be good at just about anything she sets her mind to. I think she could be a GREAT passer out of the low post and bring her assist-to-turnover ratio closer to 1:1, if not better."
Stepping into a starting role to begin this year will be Renee Moore (F/Lisbon, ME). Moore is the sister of senior point guard Emily Moore. The younger of the sisters, Renee averaged 19 minutes a game as a freshman and was second on the team with 5.3 rebounds per game. Coach Heidorf likes his forward tandem of Saucier and Moore.
"For all the accolades that Saucier receives, and all of it deserved, everything I have seen thus far suggests that Renee can have just as big of an impact on this team. Her footwork in the paint is solid and her shooting touch close in is very good."
Olivia McNally (G/Sherman, ME) and Liron Albag (G/Ganot Hadar, Israel) also return to the mix for the Owls. Both will look to provide extra scoring and depth at the guard position. Coach Heidorf believes that the two guards possess the key for how successful the Owls can be this year.
"Liron and Olivia have the raw tools to be impact players: speed, shooting touch, and a strong desire to do what it takes to get better. With a little confidence and/or game experience I really believe they will be players that opponents have to game plan for. If it clicks for one of them this year, we can be pretty good. If it clicks for both, we can be dangerous."
Joining the Owls this season will be a pair of newcomers, Amber Cloutier (G/Lewiston, ME) and Brigitte Pratt (F/Southwest Harbor, ME). Cloutier (Cloo-chee) is the cousin of the sisters Moore (Emily and Renee). After transferring from Southern Maine Community College last year, Cloutier was the team manager for the women's basketball team while waiting to become eligible. Pratt joins the team a couple of years removed from an ACL injury suffered in high school.
Call them short in numbers, call them short in stature, but what the team is not, is short on talent or desire. With eight players on the current roster, health and conditioning will be just as important to the 2011-12 Owls as points and rebounds. But Heidorf downplays the impact it will have on game day.
"I've seen teams with 25 kids on their roster. It looks real nice in the team picture. But when the horn sounds and the ball is tossed I have seen those teams use the same 8 player rotation that we will use. And I will go into games with my eight every day of the week and twice on Sunday. It does make practices interesting though. I think I may wind up being in the best shape of my life by the end of the season... or in a full body cast."