A Tough Act to Follow
Coming off their most successful season in 20 years, many women’s basketball experts regarded St. John’s as a legitimate powerhouse for the 2006-2007 season. College Sports Television went so far as to choose the Red Storm as No. 16 in their preseason poll, saying they had “moved up in the world.”
However, a string of injuries has all but depleted what was likely to be a potent squad, and is forcing many freshmen to step up to bigger roles.
“We have a lot of injuries, mostly to upperclassmen,” said Kim Barnes Arico, fifth coach of the women’s basketball team who led them to the second round of the NCAA tournament last year. “The freshmen will be in a position to come in and start and play a ton of minutes early on.”
In addition to the slew of injuries the team is dealing with, St. John’s will be afforded senior leadership from only two players, Kia Wright and Angela Clark, both of whom are battling injuries as the season gets underway. Although Wright has been playing through her injury, she is not 100 percent and is playing limited minutes. Barnes Arico said that because of the injuries, the team is looking to junior Tiina Sten for leadership on and off the court.
“In order for us to be successful, Tiina Sten needs to be a major contributor,” Barnes Arico said. “She’s played all summer with her national team. She’s had a lot of experience and we need her to step up.”
A major part of being a leader for the underclassmen of this St. John’s team is helping to make the transition from high school to college as easy as possible for the freshmen. Because of the Red Storm’s crippled state, on-court efficiency from newcomers will be integral to a successful season.
“It’s a lot of pressure to fill the shoes of those who left,” Wright said. “[The people that graduated] left their mark, and coming in behind them is a tough role. But they’re holding their own and we are only going to get better from here.”
Although it has been difficult to demonstrate leadership on the court, as most of the team leaders are injured, the veterans have been able to guide the younger players off the court.
“I haven’t been able to be a role model on the court because I’m injured,” Wright said, “but off the court we try to lead as well as we can by being good people.”
While it is understandable, and even expected, that some of the newcomers taking on big roles may be nervous or even hesitant, the feeling at the St. John’s pre-season camp was anything but fear. The younger players appear to be eagerly looking forward to the challenge of matching last year’s success.
“I’m very excited for this,” said Nikki Jo Rotolo, a highly touted freshman out of Rome, NY. “It’s my first year at a Big East school, and since there are so many injuries we have to take a big role. I’ve been waiting all my life for this.”
With so many players having graduated, and the starting lineup a work in progress, it one could certainly speculate that there could be team chemistry problems. Barnes Arico said that players new and old have bonded well together, but team unity is a key factor to success.
“I think it will be key to get the seniors and juniors to gel well with the freshmen,” she said. “The chemistry has been very good. The freshmen have been a great addition, and the upper classmen have really accepted them into the group.”
Despite the injury problems, St. John’s is hoping to achieve the same success they saw last year. However, coach Barnes Arico recognizes that it may be a tough road until the team is back at full health.
“We’re batting a lot of injuries, but we’re hoping it’s early enough that the players can be back within the next month,” she said.
In spite the Red Storm’s optimistic outlook on an otherwise grave situation, St. John’s fell in both their preseason game and their regular season opener. After a 73-65 loss in a spirited effort to Premier Players in the preseason, the Red Storm dropped the first game of the regular season to Iona 66-55.
Because of the plethora of injuries, only six players made appearances in the game for St. John’s, as Wright was held to 10 minutes of limited duty as she is still nursing her sprained ankle.
“We played hard, but we ran out of gas,” Barnes Arico said. “We did a lot of good things, but we didn’t do some of the things it takes to win a game. We have a young team and I know we’ll get better.”
Although St. John’s will likely be facing adversity throughout the season, the team still has their eyes on the prize regardless of who is and is not injured.
“We want to get back to the NCAA tournament,” Wright said.
“That feeling we had last year was the greatest feeling in the world, and we want to give the freshmen a chance to witness that themselves.”