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Nov. 13 - BETHANY, W.Va. – With three starters and two other letterwinners returning to mix with the most talented freshmen class she’s had in her tenure, Bethany College head women’s basketball coach Rebecca Upton sees her team ready to make a step towards the top of the Presidents’ Athletic Conference (PAC) in 2007-08.

The Bison will open their season Friday, Nov. 16 at the Penn State Behrend Tournament against the host school at 8 p.m. Their first home game will be Tuesday, Nov. 20 against Mount Union (Ohio) College at 6 p.m.

Upton, who has led the Bison to 27 victories in her previous three seasons, including a 9-18 mark last year when BC reached the PAC Tournament semifinals, has nine newcomers on her roster this season. And while those fresh faces have given her the most talent she’s had at her disposal during her time at Bethany, it’s also meant getting those new players accustomed to her system in a hurry.

“We’ve looked pretty good in preseason,” said Upton. “We are a lot more talented than we have been in the past. We’re also throwing a lot more at them right now then we have in the past and forcing the issue to get them comfortable with the system. Because we’re so much more talented, we need to show it on the floor at the very start of the season.”

The Bison do have quite a bit of experience returning, especially in the backcourt. Senior Lisa Mitchell (Burgettstown, Pa./Avella) was a Second Team All-PAC selection a year ago after averaging a team-leading 12.7 points per game and hitting 40 three-pointers. She had 20 or more points in five games a season ago, including 21 in BC’s close loss at Thomas More (Ky.) College in the PAC semifinals.

“We think Lisa is one of the top returning guards in the PAC,” said Upton. “She wanted the ball in tight situations last year and stepped up and made plays. Lisa has a relentless work ethic and we are looking for her to be a leader at the guard spot this season.”

Joining Mitchell as a Bison captain this season are senior Staci Luehm (McKeesport, Pa./South Allegheny) and junior Kaitlyn McCormick (Wheeling, W.Va./Wheeling Park). Luehm appeared in seven games last season, while McCormick recovered from injuries to average 4.4 points and 2.8 rebounds in 18 games, including eight straight starts to finish the year.

“Staci has a great attitude and is a great leader who comes back better every year,” said Upton. “All you can ask from a kid is for them to get better every year and stay committed to the program and Staci has done that.

“Kat has a great work ethic and no one plays harder,” said Upton. “Coming back from her injuries to earn a starting spot earned her a lot of respect among her teammates. She brings great intensity to practice every day and is a great example for all the younger players.”

Bethany will also be very experienced at the point guard position, where a pair of upperclassmen who logged heavy minutes last year are back. Sophomore Nicole Thompson (Wheeling, W.Va./John Marshall) led the PAC with 4.5 assists per game and also scored 4.6 points per contest. Junior Caelyn DiSanti (Tarentum, Pa./North Catholic) battled back from injuries to play in 17 games and average 3.6 points and 2.7 assists per game.

“We are in a really good situation at point guard with a lot of experience returning,” said Upton. “Nicole is one of the best passing point guards in the PAC and sees the floor very well in transition. Caelyn came back healthy after an injury-laden sophomore season. She also came back better and is focused on being the best point guard she can be and trying to lead from that position.”

Three newcomers in the backcourt are expected to see a great deal of minutes this season. Sophomore Stefanie Shafer (Lancaster, Ohio), who only played softball at Bethany last year, is a 5-9 guard who will bring a more physical presence to the Bethany backcourt. And the top two freshmen in BC’s recruiting class are twin sisters Kelly and Stacy Goode (Pleasant Point, Ohio/Little Miami), who are expected to be major contributors this season for the Green and White.

“Stefanie’s size and physicality brings a different aspect to our guards,” said Upton. “She played in the post in high school and is used to making moves on the block and being physical. She’s also really competitive and has a real passion for the game, which shows every time she plays.

“We were so lucky to get Kelly and Stacy because they are impact type players due to the dimensions they bring to the floor,” said Upton. “They are two of the most athletic kids we’ve had in our program. Both will compete for starting positions due to their ability to score and their tenacious defense.”

The theme of Bethany’s post play is also different dimensions, as Upton says she has four players who will compete for time and all of them bring a different skill set to the floor. Junior Renee Brandenberg (Avella, Pa.) is the lone returner who averaged 8.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and swatted 33 shots a year ago. She’ll be more of the low block presence, while junior college transfer Susannah Cartland (Harvard, Ill.) will be more of a face-up post player. A 6-0 junior, Cartland transferred to BC from McHenry County College, where she earned First Team All-Illinois Skyline Collegiate Conference after averaging 14.2 points and 8.8 rebounds last year.

“Renee came back stronger and better this season,” said Upton. “She is determined to be a factor on the floor this season and consistency is something we’re looking for from her this year.

“Susannah is a different type of post,” said Upton. “She’s more agile, gets up the floor well and is more comfortable facing the basket with a short jumper. She’ll give us a different look than Renee, who is more of a back-to-the-basket player.”

The other two posts include sophomore Kortni Collins (Newton Falls, Ohio), who is in her first year on the hoops team after two years with the women’s soccer program, and freshman Samantha Bower (Massillon, Ohio/Tuslaw). Collins’ athleticism will be her main contribution to the team, while Bower’s game features skills inside and on the perimeter.

“Kortni and Sam both bring different dimensions to the floor than Renee and Susannah,” said Upton. “Kortni is extremely athletic and is very fast going up and down the floor. She rebounds well and could be integral in our transition game. Sam is physical down low and likes to bang, but also played guard in high school and can be a solid three-point shooter. She has a nice complete game, with an ability to attack the basket from outside but also play physical inside.”

Three other freshmen are also competing for time this season, including guard Chelsea Butler (Cortland, Ohio/Lakeview), forward Summer Flowers (Jacobsburg, Ohio/Linsly) and guard Tara Harris (Zanesville, Ohio).

In addition to providing depth for the Bison, Upton is also expecting her talented freshmen class to provide enough scoring to help lighten the load on the returning players. If that happens, the Bison coach believes her team can be right there competing for the league crown at the end of the year.

“We’ve been very one-dimensional in our scoring the last few years,” said Upton. “We think we have players this year who can help balance that out, which should make us tougher to beat.

“Overall, we have a lot of young, exciting talent and have kids who want to be here and get better every day,” said Upton. “We want to be competing for the PAC championship this year and feel we can be one of the top teams if we keep working every day.”