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October 18, 2010

Large nucleus of talented youngsters has women's hoops staff full of optimism

By: Matt Kovatch

Alyssa Fenyn averaged 7.5 points per game as a freshman and should greatly improve on those numbers this season.

The hallmark of this year’s men’s basketball team, and the reason why many consider them to be one of the top threats in the ACC, is the large group of experienced and talented upperclassmen who make up a bulk of the roster. It’s a group that began as a crop of promising potential but has been cultivated into a battle-tested and proven team of winners.

It’s a model that the women’s team is looking to duplicate, and with a combined total of 10 freshmen and sophomores on the 2010-11 roster, it appears to be off to the right start.

“With that youth comes inexperience,” seventh-year head coach Beth Dunkenberger said. “They’ll have to learn some fundamental concepts on the defensive end and they’ll have to really learn each other on the offensive end, whether it’s timing in the different sets or how they can set each other up to score. But on the flip side, that youth also brings some energy and some enthusiasm. Hopefully, we’ll play off of all that energy to propel us on both ends of the court.”

Tech introduced five rookies into the program last season, and watching how they matured and breathed new life into the program proved to be the most entertaining storyline of the Hokies’ 15-15 campaign. Following consecutive 2-12 conference records, Tech improved to 4-10 in the ACC last year and is looking to take another step forward for two reasons – the first of which is that same group of freshmen.

“I think the offseason has really helped them,” Dunkenberger said of her current sophomores: guards Alyssa Fenyn and Aerial Wilson, forwards Porschia Hadley and Abby Redick, and center Taylor Ayers. “They have logged some major hours in the gym, not only in the weight room and conditioning, but also on the basketball court just working on skills. Whether it’s the post players working on back-to-the-basket moves or guards working on extending their range, they’ve been in there.”

The second reason for optimism heading into the upcoming season is another group of reinforcements – five more freshmen who figure to be even better than the previous five.

“I thought our class last year was good, but this one, top to bottom – they’re tough,” Dunkenberger said. “This group brings speed and athleticism that is way better than anything we’ve had before. I think the sophomores will definitely help to mentor the freshmen along, but this group of five freshmen has hit the ground running.”

Dunkenberger is not the only one who views the collection of newcomers as special. In fact, the class was rated 28th in the nation by, the recruiting arm of’s women’s college basketball coverage. Three of the new Hokies – guard Monet Tellier and forwards Nia Evans and Latorri Hines-Allen – were ranked among the ESPNU Top 100 at the time of their signing with Tech. Including forward Brittni Montgomery and point guard Kyani White, the Hokies have the makings of a strong nucleus for years to come.

But that’s not meant to look past this year. Reining in all of the new faces will be a pair of seniors who have combined to start 96 games over the past two seasons – point guard Nikki Davis and center Brittany Gordon.

“I think our seniors are leading the way toward creating good team chemistry,” Dunkenberger said of a trio that also includes forward Elizabeth Basham, who sat out last season with a shoulder injury.

One way they’ve been doing that is by regularly getting the rest of the team into the Hahn-Hurst Basketball Practice Center, a building in its second year of existence and one that Dunkenberger said has been put to good use.

“It’s no secret that the more work you put in, the better you get,” Dunkenberger said. “We have a team full of gym rats. I like coming in here on Saturday and Sunday mornings and seeing players in here working on their games. I actually came in during the second half of the football game against East Carolina and we had players in here working out on their own. I’m very optimistic that the gym time they’ve logged will pay off this season.”

Brittany Gordon’s ability to score and defend in the post will be key if the Hokies want to enjoy future success in ACC play.

Tech is hoping that the gym time pays off on multiple fronts, whether it’s in small ways like an improved 3-point shooting percentage – “I told the team that I thought we had a lot of 3-point shooters last year, but we didn’t have a lot of 3-point makers,” Dunkenberger quipped – or in bigger ways like getting better at closing out tight games.

“A big emphasis in the offseason has been on being competitive and finding a way to win games,” Dunkenberger explained. “We’ve done a lot of [drills] where we have winners and losers because, last year, we were in several games down the stretch that could have gone either way. Unfortunately, we didn’t pull out some of the games that we really thought could have been season makers. For us to join the rank of postseason teams, we have got to finish games. I know that’s something that has driven our entire team during the offseason. It’s the same thing that drives me every day – to find ways to put us in situations where we can win close games.”

The Hokies have missed out on postseason play for three consecutive seasons. It’s an uncharacteristic streak that hasn’t been matched since 1993, especially considering that Tech went to the postseason every March from 1998 to 2007. Whether or not the Hokies get back to their winning ways this year remains to be seen, but with another wave of talented freshmen joining the fight, it will at least be worth watching to find out.

“Our coaching staff has worked hard to bring some new ideas to the team both on the offensive end and on the defensive end – things that meet and match our personnel,” Dunkenberger concluded. “It will be exciting to see just how far this team can go. They are a fun bunch to watch.”

Click here to see the 2010-2011 Women's Basketball schedule.

Click here to see the 2010-2011 Women's Basketbal roster.