Eagles to return stronger, experienced for 2010-11

Coach AnnMarie Gilbert says she’s optimistic about the 2010-11 because of the way the team played this season (22-9). All starters are returning and only two players will leave the team because of graduation this year.

The Eastern Michigan University women’s basketball team ended its season in West Lafayette, Ind., losing, 56-50, to Purdue in the first round of the Woman’s National Invitation Tournament. Getting to the WNIT ended a three-year postseason drought for the Eagles and was one of many accomplishments.

There is an air of optimism for the 2010-11 season.

“For me playing in the WNIT was exciting, I have never stepped foot on a Big Ten court nor have I played a team in the Big Ten,” freshman guard Lindsey Mahone said. “I was a little nervous at the start of the game, but all in all it was a rare opportunity I had a chance to be a part of and I really enjoyed it.”

The Eagles were 22-9 overall and 11-5 in the Mid-American Conference.

With such success, higher standards are expected for next season. EMU will be returning all of its key players, many of them sophomores and juniors.

“Our goal is to win a MAC Championship,” sophomore guard Tavelyn James said. “Everything comes with winning a championship; working hard, getting better, finding out our weaknesses and strengths, and being able to trust one another to make each other better. “

James will return for her junior season after being named first team All-MAC and setting the record for points scored by a sophomore (641). She has already topped the 1,000-point mark for her career, (1067). James averaged 20.7 ppg and topped 40 points in a game twice in 2009-2010

Coach AnneMarie Gilbert will be in her fourth season at EMU and her expectations have never been higher.

“We will regroup, we will be back,” Gilbert said, after a 72-46 MAC tournament loss to the Akron Zips.

Only losing two players to graduation, the Eagles should manage well next season with an experienced starting five returning in full, including James, bolstered by key bench player junior guard Sydney Huntley, captain Cassie Schrock and rebounding presence and sophomore forward Paige Redditt.

Rebounding and defense will be a team focus in 2010-11.

“We’re really trying to improve our defense and rebounding,” Gilbert said prior to opening postseason play, and repeated it again when the Eagles were bounced from the MAC tournament by Akron.

Returning forward Kristin Thomas will be key in rebounding and defense areas in her senior season.

“She’s a kid capable of getting 15-16 rebounds in a game blocking shots and altering shots,” Gilbert said.

Players expect more from themselves in 2010-11. Their accomplishments are appreciated but also taken with the understanding there is room for improvement.

“It was OK to play in the WNIT, but I know nobody wants to play in because it’s really all about the NCAA (tournament),” James said.

“My goal for myself and my team is to take what we achieved this year and keep growing from there,” Mahone said. “The MAC championship is a title we all have envisioned and next year we plan to turn those dreams into reality.”

If EMU wants to do all that, the team will have to go through some familiar foes to get there.

The Toledo Rockets appear to be the Eagles’ main competition again in the MAC West. The Eagles split their season series with the Rockets in 2009-10, each winning their game at home. The Rockets return three out of their four top scorers and rebounders from last season.

Over in the MAC East is a similar picture, Bowling Green and Kent State are returning a majority of their key players and will be most likely atop the East standings next season.

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