PASADENA, Calif. (Nov. 23, 2015) – For the first time in program history, the Caltech women's basketball team returns two All-SCIAC honorees and enters the 2015-16 season riding a two-game home win streak. Although just three players are back from last season, they could form the most potent trio of any team in the conference and are joined by a quintet of talented freshmen eager to make their mark on the rising program.
"The atmosphere with this team is just tremendous," Head Coach Sandra Marbut said. "The kids here are fun to be with and fully committed to what we're doing. Despite the lack of depth, we've never had such accomplished returning talent and we have a fairly versatile group that complements each other well. The freshmen have tremendous potential as a class, but they don't yet know what they don't know - they will be schooled hard and fast in their first games, but are full of excitement and learning every day."
Senior Stephanie Wong (Palos Verdes Estates, Calif. / Palos Verdes Peninsula) and juniors Kate Lewis (San Antonio, Texas / Ronald Reagan) and Michelle Wong (Palos Verdes Estates, Calif. / Palos Verdes Peninsula) make up the returning trio. The program's career three-point leader and the fastest to reach 1,000 career points, Stephanie Wong ranked 70th in Division III in three-point percentage (.364) and 90th in three-pointers made per game (2.2). The wing became only the second player in program history to reach the 1,000-point threshold, which she surpassed with a career-high 31-point effort in the Beavers' second consecutive SCIAC win on Feb. 21. In addition to her seemingly limitless range, Wong is effective slashing to the basket as well, led the team with 44 steals and ranked third with 4.8 rebounds per game last season.
"Stephanie is our only two-time All-SCIAC honoree – she also made Second Team as a freshman – and it will be nice to be able to get her more time at the 3 this year with our size, where she has more freedom to attack or shoot," Marbut said. "She can absolutely light it up at times – she just won't miss any shot she takes."
Lewis led the conference and ranked 60th in Division III in scoring with an average of 17.6 points per game over the full season. She also grabbed 8.4 rebounds per game in conference play to rank third in the SCIAC and recorded 10 double-doubles on the year, ranking 95th in the country. The big led the team in shooting percentage (.412) and blocks per game (1.0) while filling the box score with 1.7 steals and 1.6 assists per game.
"Kate has been honing her game in different ways to diversify her variety of shots," Marbut said. "She led the conference and set our program record in scoring with really very few moves; she will be even more dangerous this year."
Last year's point guard and tip of the Beavers' low-efficiency and turnover-forcing defense, Michelle Wong will reprise her role as the team's primary ball-handler after dishing out 2.2 assists and nabbing 1.7 steals per game to rank ninth and tied-ninth in the conference.
"We will get a little more punch out of Michelle this," Marbut said. "She has continued to mature over her time here and is primed for a great season. She has probably improved more than any other player over her career and every aspect of her game is looking really strong heading into this year."
Five freshmen – Urmi Bhaumik (Yorba Linda, Calif. / Valencia), Elizabeth Eiden (White Plains, N.Y. / Holy Child), Nika Haleftiras (San Diego, Calif. / Our Lady of Peace), Madeline Schemel (Westport, Conn. / Staples) and Madelyn Stroder (Springfield, Mo. / Greenwood Laboratory) – are all set to be significant parts of the rotation in the Beavers' shallow roster of eight.
Haleftiras is likely to open the season starting in the backcourt alongside Michelle Wong. A combo guard, Haleftiras was named All-Western League and helped the Academy of Our Lady of Peace to the CIF Division 3 title in 2013, captaining the team as a senior and averaging roughly eight points and four assists per game in 2014-15.
"Nika is a great guard – her on-court leadership abilities are developing and it's a perfect situation for her to play alongside and off of Michelle as she learns," Marbut said. "Those two are playing very well off each other already and Nika gives us some good outside and midrange shooting."
Vying for the other starting spot in the post, Eiden and Schemel each bring unique strengths whether playing alongside Lewis or one another. At 6-3, Eiden is the tallest player on the roster and is a true interior presence who earned Fairchester Athletic Association All-League honors at the School of the Holy Child as well as all-league accolades in volleyball. The 6-0 Schemel out of Staples High School can certainly hold her own down low as well, but her real impact should come via the two-time All-FCIAC's mid-range game as she operates more out of the high post.
"I'm really excited about both Liz and Mads in the post, especially down the road" Marbut said. "Liz is going to be a real force and is already making huge strides, getting better literally every single day. Mads is really a 4 but is so fluid around the basket, she just finds ways to score."
Bhaumik and Stroder will also mix into the back court more frequently as they acclimate to collegiate basketball. Bhaumik pulled in All-Empire League Scholar-Athlete honors twice, team MVP recognition and Defensive Player of the Year accolades while captaining Valencia High School. Stroder played four years of both basketball and soccer at Greenwood Laboratory School at Missouri State University.
"Urmi is a slasher with a really good, deceptive first step that gets her to the rim," Marbut said. "She has a lot of room for growth as she gets a handle on the college game. Madeline has a fantastic work ethic and attitude she brings to practice every day and we'll get some contributions from her."
So much inexperience within a thin roster might have other teams concerned, but these Beavers are embracing the challenge. With two players looking to earn the program's first All-SCIAC First Team recognition, another eyeing her first all-conference honors and a freshman class certainly talented enough to step right onto the court, it's no wonder Marbut and her squad are eager to get the season started.
"We're going to be competitive in a lot of games, but we may be inconsistent with so many freshmen just as they learn on the go," Marbut said. "We have a small roster, but some of our most successful seasons have been with small rosters. You can't hide – the ball finds you, and players step up. It's going to be a fun year and next couple of years."
Marbut and the Beavers open the season hosting Linfield College (3-1) on Wednesday, Nov. 25 at 5 p.m.