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Nov. 8 - BETHANY, W.Va. – With four starters and five others back who played in 21 or more games last season, the Bethany College women’s basketball team has reason to believe the 2011-12 season will be one of the most successful in recent history.

Last year, the Bison finished with a 13-13 overall record and an 8-8 mark in the league to place fourth in the regular season standings. Although the campaign ended with a loss in the opening round of the PAC Tournament to Grove City, the hopes are high this year due to BC returning six of their top seven scorers and an offseason filled with hard work preparing for the new season.

“Our returners came back very solid and all of them are better than last year,” said Bethany head coach Rebecca Upton, who has led the program to 77 wins in seven seasons. “We also have a couple back who missed time because of injury last year. The bar is set higher than last year as far as what they expect from themselves and their teammates.”

Running the point guard position will be a pair of sophomores, one who was with the team last year and another who is in her first season in Green and White. The BC veteran is Skylar Williams (Jefferson Hills, Pa./Thomas Jefferson), who played in all 26 games and averaged 3.0 points and 1.6 assists while growing into the position. The new addition is Ty Harris (Wintersville, Ohio/Indian Creek), who started five of the seven games she played at Muskingum last year before transferring to Bethany.

“Skylar is a phenomenal defender and is truly instinctive,” said Upton. “She was a late slide into that position last year and is developing every day as a point guard offensively. She is starting to own the spot and we are expecting more and more from her. We recruited Ty out of high school and are really excited to have her with the program. She is different than Skylar in a good way in that she is a true point guard in the offensive sense. She controls the ball very well and stays poised regardless of the situation.”

The shooting guard position will offer Upton a plethora of options, led by senior Anne Wilson (Saegertown, Pa./Cambridge Springs). After spending three years at the point guard position, she slides to her natural position. As a junior, Wilson led the team in scoring (10.1), assists (3.2) and was second with 35 steals.

Also at the spot is senior Audra Droginske (Wheeling, W.Va./Wheeling Central), who turned in 6.7 points and 2.3 assists last year, senior Kelly Zogran (Pittsburgh, Pa./Thomas Jefferson), who fired in 4.8 points and was second on the team with 26 three-pointers, sophomore Rebecca Braithwaite (Pittsburgh, Pa./Chartiers Valley), who played in 13 games as a freshman and freshman R.E.L Neal (Detroit, Mich./Melvindale).

“We finally get to play Anne at her natural position as a senior,” said Upton. “She’s always had a scorer’s mentality. Anne can get to the hoop, has a nasty pull-up jumper and can shoot it from deep. She is vocal and intense on the floor and a natural leader. Audra is one of the best on-the-ball defenders in the PAC. She is a very unselfish offensive player, but we are looking for her to be more involved and be consistently aggressive on the offensive end.

“Kelly also has a scorer’s mentality who can really shoot the three,” said Upton. “We pushed her to work on her midrange jumper, as well as expectations to be a better defender and she has done both. She is vocal, feisty and raised the bar on her own defensive game. Rebecca’s basketball knowledge is second to no one on the team, which is very valuable for us. She came back faster and always knows where she needs to be. R.E.L. is very athletic and can shoot. She has potential but just has to keep working to learn our system and adjust to the college game.”

The Bison expect to have a solid 1-2 punch on the wing in junior Kayla Taormina (Center Twp., Pa./Quigley) and sophomore Taylor Verrico (Monaca, Pa./Quigley). An Honorable Mention All-PAC selection last year, Taormina was the second-leading scorer with 9.8 points per game and also hauled down an impressive 6.0 rebounds per game. Verrico was limited due to injury last year, but is healthy this season and is anticipated to make major contributions. Sophomore transfer Shelby Persinger (Whitehall, Ohio/Whitehall-Yearling) is trying to get healthy and attempt to find minutes as well.

“Kayla is one of the most effective all-around players,” said Upton. “She is a great rebounder on both ends of the floor with a great nose for the ball on the offensive end. She is fast, crafty around the basket and a fierce competitor, so Kayla is an asset to us on every level. She works hard every day in every drill and is a natural bar raiser.

“Taylor is the most instinctive player on the team,” said Upton. “She is coming off a serious injury, but is healthy now and came back stronger and faster. She’s an unbelievable passer, deceptively quick and a good defender. Shelby is currently injured and we’ll see what she can do when she’s healthy and learns the system.”

At the four spot, BC will have a versatile group of players to rotate on the floor. Senior Renee Shepherd (New Martinsville, W.Va./Magnolia) completed her first full injury-free season with 7.0 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Junior Carly Garneau (Beaver Creek, Ohio/Carroll) averaged 2.9 points last season and is hoping a strong offseason will propel her into a big year. Freshmen Ashley Kimble (New Matamoras, Ohio/Frontier) and Monica Westerheide (Zanesville, Ohio/Bishop Rosecran) have shown potential in their quest for minutes.

”Renee, who could play the three as well, can score from anywhere on the floor,” said Upton. “She has proven to be a great rebounder and has a great nose for the ball. Her intensity is her biggest asset and the type of example she sets is what this team needs. Carly spent the summer working on her footwork, which is extremely evident. She is more of a perimeter offensive player and post defender, which makes her an interesting match-up for other teams. We are hoping this is her breakout year.

“Ashley has a ton of potential,” said Upton. “She is a very skilled offensive player. She has the height and skills to play the four, but just needs to get stronger so she can make the transition to the more physical college game. Monica is a bottomless pit of potential. She’s a six-footer who is extremely agile, has the potential to be a lockdown post defender and has the ability to add to her game offensively with continued work.”

Bethany will have the luxury of two six-footers at the center position, starting with senior Katelynn Hackathorn (Valley Grove, W.Va./Wheeling Park). She shot 49 percent from the floor and averaged 8.9 points and 6.2 boards to earn Honorable Mention All-PAC honors. Sophomore Emilee Madison (Smock, Pa./Uniontown) is a 6-2 post who sat out all of last year after suffering an injury in a preseason scrimmage, but is healthy again and could be a big force underneath.

“Katelynn is still one of the most skilled post players I have been around,” said Upton. “She can shoot threes, is surprisingly agile defensively and is a vocal leader in the post. She’s also become a vocal leader off the court. The sky is the limit for Katelynn Hackathorn this year. Emilee is coming back from a major injury and this year is all about getting stronger. She’s like a freshman all over again, but she alters things defensively due to her size and is a huge target on the offensive end. We’re excited to see what Emilee can do this year.”

Keys for the Bison to reach their goals of surpassing last year’s win total and earning one of the top slots in the league include stepping up and being consistent in all levels of the game. Upton said the senior class, which has been through a lot during their tenures, will use that experience to try to lift this year’s team.

“We are fighting for one of the top spots in the conference,” said Upton. “We were fourth last year, so that has to be one of the goals. Things aren’t as black and white in the conference and they are a little more open this year. In general, our goal is also to raise our own bar. That includes stepping up our defensive ability, scoring and going deeper into our roster.

“We also want to play with more consistently this year,” said Upton. “We’ve already talked about it a lot as a team so far. It’s not just playing consistent game-to-game but half-to-half and minute-to-minute. Like all teams, we want to maintain more highs and limit the dips during the season.

“We’d like to have a big year for the seniors,” said Upton. “They have played through a lot of situations. They’ve been a part of senior-oriented teams, seven-player teams and very young teams. They’ve seen a little bit of everything and using the leadership and experience they provide will be critical for us this season.”