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SUNY Potsdam women open 2012-13 basketball season tonight

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POTSDAM - The SUNY Potsdam women’s basketball team returns to the court with an experienced and battle-tested squad for the 2012-13 season.

The Bears look to shake off a tough 2011-12 campaign with a brand new look and an up tempo style of play that will put pressure on their opponents.

“We showed our age last season,” said Bears eighth year Head Coach Tara Ruckh. “We were predominately sophomores and freshmen and we showed inconsistency throughout the year.”

However, Ruckh notes that the experience and maturity of her team has improved and will show in the 2012-13 campaign.

“I am really excited about this season because they are all a year older as juniors and sophomores,” said Ruckh. “I like the confidence they have this year. They understand the expectations and they are hungry. They weren’t satisfied with how things went last year.”

Ruckh has raised the bar for her team going into the season and has stressed one goal above all others that the squad will strive to achieve.”

“A big goal for us this year is to improve on our record. I would like to finish in the top four of the conference to give us an opportunity to host a playoff game.”

The Bears open the season tonight against Utica College at 6 p.m. in Jerry Welsh Gymnasium.

The Bears will have to overcome the loss of Sophie Parks and Kaley Arsenault in order to achieve this goal. The two forwards combined for 269 points and 203 rebounds in 2011-12 and were a presence in the paint. With the duo’s departure, the Bears will look to showcase a new style of offense and defense that will fit their personnel on the floor.

“We are going to change the tempo of the game,” said the Bears coach. “We want to speed up the game, push the ball more, and have a lot more pressure in our full court and half court defense. The fast paced style fits our personnel a lot better. That was something I wanted to do last year, but it didn’t really fit with who we had. Everyone wants to play a certain way, but as a coach you have to fit your playing style to who you have on the court.”

Potsdam will turn to its senior leadership in order to run this style of offense and defense. The Bears will look to senior point guard Katy Briedis (Canton, N.Y.) not only as a leader on the court, but off the court as well. The Canton native was a staple in the offense, leading the team in scoring (10.3 ppg.), assists (69) and shot 75% from the free throw line.

“Katy Briedis is a senior and a natural leader on the team,” said Ruckh.

“She is someone that I have relied on since the end of last season. She pushed the team in the offseason and has led them in the right direction.

We have been craving a person like Katy as a leader, someone who isn’t afraid to tell somebody that what they are doing isn’t acceptable.”

The Bears return several key players who have gained valuable experience and will look to make an early impact.

The guard position will feature four experienced Bears to compliment Briedis. Juniors Hannah Kmiecinski (Webster, N.Y.) and Chenice Russell (Moira, N.Y.) provide a boost for the Bears on the offensive and defensive side of ball. Kmiecinski played in all 25 games and averaged 6.8 points-per-game last season. Russell returns after earning a starting role in 2011-12 and is a player that Ruckh wants to see emerge as a leader on the court. Sophomores Carli Reynolds (Indian Lake, N.Y.) and Colleen McNamara (Guelph, Ontario) transition into larger roles this season after growing during their freshman campaigns.

Ruckh notes the growth and expectations of Reynolds and McNamara.

“I can already see the difference in their game transitioning from freshman to sophomore year,” said Ruckh. “They have more confidence and have developed in what we need them to do offensively.”

The forward position will be the strong point for the Bears this season as they return several impact players. Senior Adedoyin Akingba (Brooklyn,N.Y.) will join the team later in the year after completion of her study abroad semester. Akingba played in all 25 games, averaged 4.8 rebounds, and shot 71% from the free throw line. Junior Jessica Kouzan (Webster, N.Y.) returns after playing in all 25 games for the Bears. She was second on the team in scoring (9.2 ppg.) and shot 74% from the charity stripe. Forwards Bailey Weigel (Williamsville, N.Y.) and Veronica Sapp (Potsdam, N.Y.) highlight a strong sophomore class. Weigel contributed significantly as a freshman, averaging 6.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg. and totaling 30 steals, and 15 blocks. Sapp is coming off a redshirt season and hopes make an impact early on 2012-13.

“Kouzan is a forward that can step out and shoot the three ball,” said Ruckh. “She was our biggest three-point threat and was a solid player in the post as well. We are looking for Bailey to score more this year. She has worked hard in the offseason and is a very good defender and rebounder. Sapp is an undersized forward who works very hard and finishes really well around the basket. She is working on several different skills that will generate quality opportunities and get her to the foul line.”

There are several newcomers that give the Bears more depth this season.

Junior Daronda Addison (Albany, N.Y.) and sophomores Margaret Wall (Churchville, N.Y.) and Laura Coleman (Manhattan, N.Y.) will fight for minutes at the guard and forward positions. Along with the upperclassmen, the Bears add freshmen Katie LaVoie (Malone, N.Y.) and Morgan Clark (Worcester, N.Y.), who Ruckh hopes will grow and contribute at both ends of the floor.

Potsdam’s coach sees many strengths in her new Bears.

“Margaret is a vocal, aggressive player on the inside who demands the basketball and these are all the things you look for in a post player,”

said Ruckh. “Addison will be a post player inside. She is a great asset to the team with her personality and is a team player. Coleman will serve as our backup point guard and we are looking for her to help us in the second half of the season. LaVoie is a good scorer who can play on the inside and the outside. She is a player that can come in and hit the 18 ft. jump shot. Clark is a solid player who is making the transition from the high school game to the college game.”

Along with a tough conference schedule, the Ruckh has put together a difficult non-conference slate that will emulate the competition of the SUNYAC.

Potsdam will face seven non-conference opponents this season. The Bears will take on foes Utica, William Smith, Skidmore, and Hamilton. Potsdam will also clash with North Country rivals Clarkson and St. Lawrence University.

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