1997-98 Women's Basketball Preview
Last season, the Villanova University women's basketball team posted a 14-14 overall record. For most teams, this mark would stand for mediocrity. However, when you consider that of the 10 players who saw significant playing time, seven were freshmen and sophomores, the 14 wins stand for quite an accomplishment.
The most important aspect to last year's season lies in the fact that Villanova's young and talented players gained the necessary experience that they will need to become a top-notch Big East team. Of the 5,625 minutes logged by Wildcat players last year, 3,654 (64.9%) were recorded by freshmen and sophomores. With nine lettermen and four starters returning, hopes are high in 1997-98.
The backcourt is the position where Villanova possesses the most depth where six players will fight for playing time. If Villanova is to move up the standings in the Big East Conference, point guard Shanette Lee will need to have a stellar season. Last year, Lee started all 28 games, averaging 7.3 ppg and 4.8 rpg to go with her team-leading 152 assists and 73 steals. After seeing significant playing time the past two seasons and learning the complex system used by head coach Harry Perretta, Lee looks poised to breakout and have a sensational junior season. The three players vying for time as Lee's back-up include sophomores Lauren Pellicane, Megan Stewart and freshman Mimi Riley. Pellicane, a fundamentally sound performer with three-point shooting range, emerged as Lee's back-up during the 1996-97 campaign. In 28 games a season ago, Pellicane tallied 40 assists compared to just 15 turnovers. Last season, Stewart saw limited time as she made the adjustment from international basketball to the American style of play. A native of Maroochydore, QLD, Australia, Stewart participated in 26 games averaging 7.7 minutes per contest. Now completely comfortable with Perretta's system, Stewart will fight for minutes in the Wildcat backcourt. Stewart has worked hard to develop three point range in hopes of seeing time at the two-guard as well. Riley comes to Villanova with some impressive credentials. A three-year starter at nearby Archbishop Carroll, Riley averaged 15.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg and 8.2 apg as a senior. Riley also has the ability to play the small forward spot, but she will more than likely be used at one of the guard spots.
At shooting guard, Villanova has a seasoned veteran in senior Jenny Higgins. Last year, Higgins came into her own as she started all 28 games, averaging 8.0 ppg and 3.4 rpg. At 5-10, Higgins gives the Wildcats size at the guard spot. In addition, she is one of Villanova's main three-point shooters as evidence by her 37 three-point field goals last year which tied her for the team lead. Higgins really came on strong during the final 10 games of last season where she averaged 10.7 ppg in that stretch and eclipsed double figures in points in six of the 10 contests. Also, 25 of her 37 three-pointers came during that 10 game stint. Also battling for playing time at the two-guard spot will be sophomore Mary Beth Snell whose freshman campaign was limited to just five games due to an injured foot and freshman Therese Pennefather. As a senior at Seton High School in Manassas, Va., Pennefather averaged 25.3 ppg and 6.2 apg. Perretta also has the luxury of using Pellicane, Riley and Stewart at the off-guard if necessary.
If things are similar to last year, the bulk of Villanova's scoring this season will come from the forward spot. The leading returner at the forward position is sophomore Jenea Skeeters who as a freshman last year finished second on the team in scoring with a 12.8 ppg average. Skeeters, who will occupy the small forward slot, totaled 357 points in 1996-97 which was the third highest total ever recorded by a Villanova freshman. Her ability to put the ball on the floor along with her shooting range which extends to three-point territory, should make her one of the top players in the conference. Also returning at forward is Villanova's leading scorer (12.9 ppg) and leading rebounder (6.6 rpg) from a year ago Jenn Sliwa. At 6-1, Sliwa has the rare combination of height, athleticism and quickness. Sliwa gives opponents defensive fits because she is able to use her mobility and quickness to take a bigger player out on the perimeter, while she has the height to post-up a smaller defender. Sliwa will primarily be used at the power forward along with the center position. Forwards (Continued)
The heart and soul of the Wildcat team lies with senior co-captain Jenn Beisel. Throughout her Wildcat career, Beisel, who is only 5-9, has been forced to guard players who are bigger than her. However, this has not stopped her from becoming one of the best defensive players in the entire Big East Conference. What Beisel lacks in height, she makes up for with strength, hard work and determination. Also a force on the offensive end, Beisel was one of three Wildcats to average double figures in scoring last season with her 10.1 ppg average. Depth at forward will be supplied by some of the more inexperienced players on the roster. Perretta is looking for freshmen Rebecca Stephens and Stephanie Baker to come in and compete for playing time right away. Stephens comes to Villanova from Brisbane, QLD, Australia where she will join the Australian native Stewart on the Wildcat squad. Stewart and Stephens are the first two foreign student-athletes to play for Perretta and the Wildcats. Perretta, who likens Stephens' game to Beisel but with better range, is hoping she can make the transition to American basketball and be ready by the time Villanova enters the thick of the Big East schedule. Baker comes to Villanova with some high expectations after earning fourth team Parade Magazine All-American honors. A standout at St. Mark's High School in Wilmington, Del., Baker is a prototype Villanova player with her size, mobility and shooting range. During her senior year at St. Mark's, Baker averaged 14.7 ppg and 10.1 rpg. Look for Baker to battle for playing time at power forward and center. Adding depth at forward is 5-10 sophomore Megan Crawford who missed the majority of the 1996-97 season due to a stress fracture of the foot.
As has been the case the last couple of seasons, Villanova will once again use a center-by-committee approach to the center spot this season. In addition to seeing time at forward, Sliwa will also log minutes in the middle for Villanova. A tenacious performer, Sliwa is Villanova's best post-defender. Two other Wildcats expected to see significant time at center are juniors Shannon Ferretti and Priscilla Rosenthal. Of the two, the 6-2 Ferretti is the more polished offensively. An outstanding shooter with good range for a center, Perretta is counting on Ferretti to supply Villanova with some scoring punch in the middle. After coming off a summer where she worked extremely hard to get herself in the best shape of her career, Ferretti looks poised to have her best season as a collegiate. Of all the players on the Villanova team, Rosenthal is the one who provides the 'Cats with the most size. Standing at 6-4, she is a dominant defensive force. Rosenthal led the Wildcats in blocked shots last season with 17 despite averaging just 8.4 mpg. If Rosenthal's offensive game continues to improve the way it did toward the end of the 1996-97 season, she has a chance to be a big contributor for Perretta and the 'Cats.
Back for his 20th season on the Main Line is the Dean of Big East women's basketball Harry Perretta. Early in the 1997-98 campaign, Perretta will reach yet another coaching milestone as he is just three wins shy of 350 for his career. After 19 seasons, his career coaching mark currently stands at 347-197 (.638).
For the first time since the 1994-95 season, Villanova will have continuity throughout its coaching staff as all three assistants from a season ago return to the Wildcat sidelines this year. Serving as Perretta's top assistant this season will once again be Joe Mullaney, Jr who has a wealth of coaching experience. Mullaney has been the head women's coach at both Providence (1980-83) and at St. John's (1984-96). Perretta's other two assistants include Cari-Lynn Piotrowski, a 1992 Manhattan College graduate, and Denise Dillon who was a standout at Villanova from 1992-96.