AURORA, N.Y. – Only in their third year of existence as a Wells College varsity program, the Express women's basketball squad has come a long way since their very first game two years ago to this day. While posting only four victories as a team in 2009-10, they doubled that total in 2010-11 while significantly improving across the board in virtually all defensive and offensive categories.
While exponentially improving their win total across their two year history is undoubtedly impressive, the Express look to take the next step in their history – qualifying for the North Eastern Athletic Conference tournament. Head Coach Mike O'Brien, in his third season, has constructed a roster constructed primarily with underclassmen and will look to utilize their athleticism to help him accomplish that goal.
There certainly is precedent within conference play to succeed with young talent. Last year's conference champion, the Storm of Keuka College, were able to secure success with only one senior and two juniors on their roster. Similar to Keuka, the Express have the benefit of talented upperclassmen that will look to mesh with the most recent infusion of young talent amongst their incoming class of freshmen.
To help guide the young roster, O'Brien has tabbed juniors Ashley Roser (Taberg, N.Y.), Brittany White (Lewiston, N.Y.) and transfer student Theresa Hernandez (Dewitt, N.Y.) as the team's captains to enter this season. Roser and Cornwell have appeared in a total of 69 games across the past two seasons for the Express, while Hernandez, a transfer from Onondaga Community College, was a member of the NJCAA Division III Women's Basketball Region 3 Tournament championship team last season. All three provide experience in different areas that should benefit the younger players on the squad.
"I like the individual dynamics that each one of our captains bring to their leadership roles," explained O'Brien when asked about his triumvirate of captains. "[Roser] has been such a driving force for our program in our first two years and I am looking for her to continue that leadership. Brittany has grown so much as a player since she arrived here and Theresa has been ready to raise our expectation level of what we can accomplish since she arrived on campus."
Roser led the Express in several offensive categories last season and enters this year only 80 points removed from 1,000 career points. Averaging a team-best 18.7 points per game last season, Roser made appearances in 20 games for the Express and recorded double-digit point totals in all but one contest on the season. A six-time winner of the NEAC Student-Athlete of the Week award, Roser ranked third in the nation in rebounds per game (14.4), seventh in double-doubles (11) and 28th in points per game (18.7) last season.
Hernandez made 31 appearances for Onondaga across the past two seasons, averaging just under three points per game. Onondaga posted an overall record of 59-7 in the two seasons that Hernandez was a member of the team and brings a winning tradition to the roster.
White is in a three-way tie for the most appearances in an Express uniform across the past two seasons, providing the team with a steady presence on the court. Averaging 22.5 minutes per game, White has scored just a shade under three points per game (2.7 per game/avg) across her career and ranks fourth all-time with a .331 field goal percentage (47-142).
Senior Paige Stone (Madison, N.Y.) rejoins the team after serving as Student Manager of Operations in 2011-12. One of three Express players to make appearances in all 25 games on the roster in 2009-10, Stone tied for third place on the squad with 14 steals and chipped in with 53 rebounds. She recently wrapped up a career on the women's soccer team where she set program records in career goals (34), game-winning goals (8) and assists (14).
Senior Kelly Cornwell (Caledonia, N.Y.), who sat out last season, made 24 appearances for Wells College as a sophomore in 2010-11. Averaging 1.8 rebounds per game, Cornwell provided depth for O'Brien off of the bench and collected seven steals. This season, Cornwell begins the season with an injury suffered during the women's soccer season.
Reigning North Eastern Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year Jessilyn Artaho-Aki (Kapaa, Hawaii) returns for her sophomore season at Wells, one year removed after posting 11.1 points per game while earning a team-high 24 starts. She ranked fifth in the conference with 83 assists, sixth in steals with 59 and 14th overall with total points – additionally, Artaho-Aki led all conference rookies in those aforementioned categories.
Junior Kristen Ryan (Syracuse, N.Y.), who is studying abroad to begin the 2012-13 women's basketball schedule, has made 24 appearances across each of the past two seasons and ranked within the top-three in scoring each year. Ryan has also ranked third in each of the past two seasons in rebounds while also ranking second behind Roser in field goal percentage in the past two years.
"We can't wait for Kristen to get back in the mix both on and off the court," explained O'Brien when pressed for his thoughts on Ryan. "She has been here since we started [as a program] and her steady play is essential to our success."
Sophomore Cassie Smythe (Eden, N.Y.), a 2011 graduate of Eden High School, rounds out the sophomores for the team . For the Raiders, Smythe was a three-sport athlete who earned All-Western New York Third Team honors and was selected to the All-State Sixth Team. She also recently claimed first place in the Wells College Express Madness three-point contest.
"It's really great to see Cassie out on the court for us," said O'Brien. "Her perimeter scoring ability is something that we have lacked across our first two seasons."
Five freshman guards have cracked the 13 player roster, including guards Holli Erkson (Cooperstown, N.Y.), Brooke Benedetto (Williamstown, N.Y.), Shelby Bourn (Sidney, N.Y.) and forwards Lindsay Achzet (Johnstown, N.Y.) and Jessica Bye (Jordan, N.Y.).
Erkson, a 2012 graduate of Cooperstown High School, was a three sport athlete and collected First Team recognition as a senior. Additionally, Erkson averaged nine points per game and also was named as the Most Valuable Player in her school's Christmas tournament.
"Holli is going to be called on early and often for us. Her ability to play both guard positions will be key," remarked O'Brien.
Benedetto, who is also a member of the Wells College mixed golf team, also earned Honorable Mention All-League honors and was the recipient of her team's Coaches' Award. Bourn, who is also a member of the Wells College field hockey squad, joins the women's basketball team from Sidney Senior High School where she served as a captain of the basketball team, earning Defensive Player of the Year for Head Coach Brad Aldrich.
Achzet is yet another First Team All-Star freshman for the Express, playing basketball for Head Coach Tim Derwin at Johnstown High School and also playing softball. O'Brien characterizes Achzet as a great rebounder who should take some of the burden off of Roser on the boards.
Bye rounds out the roster of freshman for the Express, fresh off of a cross country season which saw her Wells College squad place third out of 12 teams at the NEAC Championships in Huntingdon Valley, Pa. Placing 27th amongst the field, Bye posted a 5K time of 26:06 to help the Express rank amongst the top teams in the competition.
STAY CONNECTED TO THE WOMEN'S BASKETBALL TEAM
Fans can follow the 2012-13 women's basketball team utilizing the school's Live Stats application. In conjunction with PrestoSports, the developer of the Athletics website, Wells College offers Live Stats for men's and women's basketball. Live Stats, which provides a text-based running account of the on-field action, are available by viewing each team's schedule on game days or by bookmarking the live stats homepage for Wells College.
Additionally, fans of the Express can receive game recaps and press releases directly from the Wells College Department of Athletics by signing up for E-Newsletters by clicking here. Be sure to visit the Express on Facebook, Twitter (@WellsExpress) and YouTube for up-to-the-minute news and updates.
The Wells College women's basketball team opens up their 2012-13 calendar of games this evening, Thursday, Nov. 15 against the Hawks of Hilbert College on the road in a 6:00 p.m. tilt. Stay up to date with the latest news directly from the Wells College athletic department by "liking" us on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/WellsExpress) and subscribing to our Twitter account (http://www.twitter.com/WellsExpress).