Bridgewater Speeding It Up
Youthful Eagles Push Faster Tempo
BRIDGEWATER — Earlier this season, a media member made a comment to Bridgewater College women’s basketball coach Jean Willi about her team’s style of play.
It wasn’t a knock on Willi — who has won more than 300 games in 17 seasons as BC’s coach — but it illustrated just how different the Eagles look this year.
“He said: ‘Coach, you’ve gotten a lot faster,’” Willi said. “We had to compete. We’re not as big, but we’re faster.”
Through five games, BC (2-3 overall, 1-1 in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference) has pushed the tempo more than in recent years, and it shows on the stat sheet. The Eagles are averaging 68 points per game, up from 57.2 last season when they started 1-4 en route to a 14-11 season.
“We tried to make a conscious effort to get more athletic in recruiting this year, because of the style of play of a Guilford or a Virginia Wesleyan,” Willi said.
BC brought in a class of five freshmen: Kelsi Bailey, Jessica Lam, Tyler and Jasmine Pinder, and Heather Cantrell. What the Eagles lost in height and size, they have easily made up for in speed.
Willi is no stranger to bringing in large freshmen classes recently. Last season the Eagles had four freshmen and in 2011-12 they had seven. The makeup of those classes, however, has changed.
In the 2011 recruiting class, the Eagles newcomers averaged 5-foot-10, but that number dropped to 5-9 last season. This year’s class, skewed by the 5-foot-1 Pinder twins, averaged 5-foot-4.
“We’re not as tall as we were, but we’re just quicker,” senior wing Holly Morgan. “Nothing was said; we just knew we were a quicker team this year.”
BC started the season with back-to-back games against Waynesburg and York with 32 and 29 turnovers, respectively. Willi said it was partially due to the team’s youth, but she’s seen the team calm down in recent games.
“We’ve played some teams that have made us grow and seen where we are and challenge us,” Willi said. “That’s a good thing. I’m not complaining about that.”
Morgan, who Willi said has been “lights out” and is playing “by far the best basketball of her career,” is BC’s lone senior, averaging more than 20 minutes per game, and has taken on the role of team leader.
The rest of Bridgewater’s key players are freshmen or sophomores, so Morgan has transformed into a bit of a Swiss Army knife for the Eagles.
“You don’t always get seniors that do that and get that they’re kind of the role model for others,” Willi said. “She’s been anywhere from a one to a five in the program. This year she’s a wing and she’s very flexible.”
Morgan’s ability to play every position has allowed Willi to get BC’s more heralded freshmen — Lam (the Division 1 Player of the Year at East Rockingham High School) and Cantrell (a first-team all-district forward at Broadway) — on the court and log big minutes. Cantrell is averaging 21.6 minutes, 8.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. Lam has started three games and is averaging four points.
“I think there were times when I’d look out there and realize how young we were on the floor, but it wasn’t frustrating,” Willi said. “I guess that was to be expected.”
Willi said this team has exceeded her expectations through five games. BC’s lone conference win — a 63-54 victory over ODAC preseason No. 3 team Guilford — illustrated the Eagles’ ability to play with the conference’s best.
“The conference is very diverse,” said sophomore Cassidy Burkholder, a Turner Ashby grad who is averaging 12.8 points per game. “There’s big teams, fast teams, small teams. That win over Guilford gave us confidence, made us feel like we’re in this and we’re not the underdogs.”
And although BC was predicted to finish sixth in the 11-team ODAC, Willi and a few of her players see a top-four finish and a bye in the conference tournament as a realistic goal.
“The ODAC’s very unpredictable this year,” sophomore Jessi Strom said. “If we show up like the best team that we have every game, we can definitely have success and be in that top four.”