Brockton Enterprise Staff Writer
"It was definitely a frustrating year for us because we knew the potential of that team,'' said Skyhawks coach Trisha Brown. "We didn't get better throughout the year as we had anticipated and that was the most frustrating thing.
"We knew it was going to be a slow start. We started two freshmen, two sophomores and a senior. We knew it wouldn't be perfect to start, but we never seemed to really get better as a team down the stretch. We were making the same mistakes.''
One season later, those growing pains have paid dividends for Stonehill, which has raced out to a 13-1 start, including 9-1 in the Northeast-10 Conference, despite having no seniors on the roster.
With junior co-captains Mary Louise Dixon and Asia Ewing leading the way and a starting lineup that includes sophomores Jamie Panton and Tori Faieta plus freshman Paige Marshall, Stonehill has put together quite a turnaround.
The Skyhawks are ranked 17th in this week's national Div. 2 poll, climbing six spots after cracking the top 25 in early January for the first time since December 2009.
With such a young team a year ago, there was plenty of learning to be done by Stonehill, and now those lessons are being applied in a positive manner.
"It feels great,'' said Ewing, who is averaging 10.3 points and 6.6 rebounds. "It's so exciting that all of our hard work is paying off. After last year, we definitely knew we'd be better this year.
"We were really a young team last year, and we're still a young team, which is exciting for next year as well. Last year, it was hard definitely. We had six new players. We didn't have a junior class. We were out of sorts. The competitiveness wasn't there like it is this year.''
Dixon, who is averaging 12.4 points, six rebounds and 5.2 assists, saw signs of better days ahead when the team reported for training camp in October.
"During preseason, the first day, everyone came in prepared,'' she said. "You could tell everyone worked out in the summer and did what they needed to do.
"It definitely got a bit frustrating last year. We were all hard workers and it didn't seem to be proving it on the court during games. This year, it's a complete turnaround. It's a very rewarding feeling putting the work into it and getting success out of it.''
Amy Pelletier, who started last season and is now the top reserve, is averaging 11.6 points while Faieta is scoring 11.5 points and grabbing 7.5 rebounds. Also in the rotation are sophomore Ashley Gendron, freshman Alee Leteria and junior Abbey Lalime.
"We knew we were going to be a better team, but record-wise, I didn't anticpate the record we have,'' said Brown, whose Skyhawks are at Le Moyne College on Saturday afternoon. "But the kids have done exactly what we've asked them to do and they just keep getting better, and that's a huge difference from last year.
"We still see so much potential for growth this year, and that's what we've tried to tell the kids. Don't settle for where we are right now because we know we need to get better to compete with the better teams down the stretch.
"In looking back at game film of last year, we forgot how young we were. Some of those mistakes we see a lot of it had to do with our youth and inconsistency. The kids better understand better preparation and how to stay consistent.''
Stonehill was 8-0 before losing its only game to second-ranked Bentley University on Dec. 8. The Skyhawks, who host the Falcons on Feb. 23, have put together a five-game winning streak since.
Picked to finish eighth in the NE-10 preseason poll, Stonehill is alone in second place, a game behind Bentley.
"Being picked eighth, that's kind of been our motivation,'' said Ewing. "We have a little saying, 'Prove people wrong.' When we saw we were ranked eight, we knew we were better than that.
"Now we're (nationally) ranked and none of us has experienced that on the team. To finally get there and be nationally ranked is the best feeling. It's nice to see our hard work paying off and people are recognizing that.''
Staff writer Jim Fenton's Colleges appears Wednesday and Friday in The Enterprise. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.