It is hard to predict where a team will finish in conference standings when the team has never played a Landmark Conference game. It is even harder to predict how a team will finish after losing its All-Mid-Atlantic Region player and starting point guard. However, these are the challenges the Elizabethtown women’s basketball team faces this season.
Last year, the Blue Jays enjoyed their first 20-win season since 2000-01 but fell to Messiah College in the Commonwealth Conference semifinals. Etown lost Taylor Kreider and Kendra Beittel to graduation, both cornerstones of the program. Kreider averaged a double-double at 16.1 points per game and 11.2 rebounds per game. She also scored over 1,000 points in her career, only the 24th player in program history to accomplish that feat. Beittel started every game for the Blue Jays last season, averaging 33 minutes per game and a career-best 10.4 points per game.
In their first year as a member of the Landmark Conference, the Blue Jays will rely on the experienced players who are returning for this season. With four upperclassmen returning and three sophomores who saw major minutes as first-years, Etown will look to continue the success from last season.
In the Landmark Conference preseason poll, the Conference chose the Blue Jays to finish fourth out of nine teams. Ahead of Etown in the standings are defending conference champions: the University of Scranton, Catholic University and Moravian College.
Junior shooting guard Rachel Forjan will be an upperclassmen leader for the Blue Jays. Forjan enjoyed a tremendous sophomore season in which she started all 25 games and played a team-high 33.4 minutes per game. She earned her playing time by increasing her field goal and three-point field goal percentages from her previous season by scoring 15.2 points per game. Forjan was also very reliable at the foul line, shooting 85.3 percent from the charity stripe.
“Coming into a new conference and not knowing much about the other teams, it is hard to estimate the kind of challenges we will face,” Forjan said. “If we stick to diving for every loose ball, playing intense defense and communicating on the court, it won’t matter who we are playing. The ultimate goal is to make it to the conference championship, because what could be better than starting a new conference and coming out victorious?”
Also returning for the Blue Jays is senior Taylor Alwine, who started all 25 games while finishing fourth on the team with 7.8 points per game. Fellow senior Erika Ferro will be back after a season-ending injury limited her to just five games last year. Junior center Emily Young will look to improve her 5.7 points per game average and provide a big lift on the inside for Etown. Junior Alyssa Aichele was limited to 18 games after playing in 26 during her first season in a Blue Jays uniform. Aichele averaged 4.4 points per game and 2.9 assists per game last year.
Sophomores Emily Martin, Krissy Pennell and Nikki Thompson all saw significant time as first-years last season and will look to have a bigger impact this season. Martin averaged 3.3 points per game and 5.4 rebounds per game, including five games of ten rebounds or better last season. Pennell burst onto the scene in the semifinal loss against Messiah, playing 29 minutes and scoring 10 points. Thompson was a threat from the outside last year, hitting 17 three-pointers, good enough for third on the team.
Head coaches Sherri Gorman and Veronica Nolt brought in 10 first-years to add to the core of the Blue Jays for this season. It will be important for the team to stay healthy, but the team has a lot of depth at each position if injuries happen to occur.
“Seeing that we have so many first-years this year, I have really focused on trying to make them feel welcomed and helping them out in any way that I can,” Forjan said. “Encouragement is always important to keep morale and intensity up. I think as an upperclassman, it is my job to set the right tone at practice which will translate to games.”
The Blue Jays will open their season on Nov. 15 at Franklin & Marshall against Marywood University as part of the Terry Greene Memorial Tournament.