Women’s basketball starts off on the right foot

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury College women’s basketball team started its season with a couple of wins this past weekend in the Panthers’ own Middlebury Tip-Off Classic, beating Lesley easily on Friday, 81-43, before having to work hard to get past Springfield on Saturday, 63-37, after taking a 31-12 lead late in the second quarter.
Panther Coach K.J. Krasco, whose team was set to play at Castleton on Tuesday after the early holiday deadline for this edition, saw plenty to like in the two victories.
Her Panthers — who have finished fourth in the NESCAC standings in each of the past two winters and return many key players — earned big edges on the boards, points in the paint and bench scoring in both games, for example.
Krasco was encouraged by the work of her post players, notably junior forwards Maya Davis and Lily Kuntz, who each played well in both victories. 
“Something to build off of from last year is I do think we do have some really strong post play. We’re still looking primarily to get our posts the ball knowing that. Also in the upcoming games they’re mostly going to draw doubles, so hopefully our guards can step up and make some outside shots,” she said, adding later, “I feel our posts are some of the best posts in the league, and we’ve got to get them the ball.”
Krasco also went 10 deep in Saturday’s closer game, with all 10 scoring, after playing 13 Panthers in Friday’s rout of Lesley. She said fans can expect more of the same as the season progresses. 
“We are definitely a deeper team than we have been the last couple of years, which is really exciting. An emphasis for us this year is everyone has a role and everyone has a place,” she said. “From top to bottom I think this is probably the most (internally) competitive group we’ve had here, and you can probably see that in my confidence in feeling who is ready to play and earn those minutes throughout the course of games.”
Krasco does expect her backcourt to perform better at both ends of the court. Against Springfield Krasco said they too rarely worked the ball inside to the posts — for example, junior forward Davis, last season’s leading scorer — led the Panthers with 10 points, but took only four shots, making all of them. 
And she was not happy that Springfield had a few too many good looks from the three-point line as the Pride cut into what had been a big Panther lead, or the fact that Middlebury turned the ball over 21 times.
“When we’re sharing the ball and all working together we do a better job of making decisions. I think when we go away from what we’re trying to do we become a little stagnant and maybe shot-choice-wise maybe don’t make the best decisions and maybe try to go too much one-on-one,” Krasco said. “I think there were glimpses of really good things that we did this past weekend of sharing the ball, and also glimpses of things that we need to improve on.”
On Saturday there was plenty to like early on vs. Springfield (1-3). Eight Panthers scored in the first quarter as they took an 18-5 lead. Kuntz provided a spark off the bench with six of her nine points in the period, senior guard Colleen Caveney had four of her eight, and the Panthers were dominating the boards (they grabbed 11 of the first 14) and forcing turnovers.
The onslaught continued in the second as the Panthers got Davis involved. She converted twice in the post, once on a feed from junior guard Kira Waldman. Back-to-back press-beating hoops from senior center Catherine Harrison, both set up by Waldman, made it 28-10, and after two free throws by Springfield’s Gracie Restituyo, Panther sophomore guard Emily Wander nailed a three at 2:34, and the Panthers had their biggest lead at 31-12.
MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE JUNIOR guard Kira Waldman looks to make a play during the Panther women’s basketball team’s Saturday victory over Springfield. The host Panthers held off a Springfield rally to win, 63-57, and improve to 2-0. Below, Panther senior guard Colleen Caveney eyes the hoop during the Saturday game. 
Photos by Michael Borenstein/Middlebury Campus
It began to slip away. Restituyo hit a free throw and a hoop, and then Pride point guard Alex Goslin nailed a three to make it 31-17. Wander hit a runner in the lane as the half ended, but Springfield had begun to gain confidence.
In the third quarter Springfield, Vt., native Chelsea McCallister went off for 16 of her game-high 18 points, including three three-pointers. The Pride outscored the Panthers by 22-17 in the period and cut the lead to 50-39.
The Panthers pushed the lead to 50-36 late in the quarter on two free throws apiece by Caveney and Harrison (eight points), but Goslin sank an open three to cut the lead to 11 entering the fourth.
Back to back drives by the Pride’s Emily Jacques made it 50-43 early in the final period. Caveney drove to make it a nine-point lead, but Goslin won a wild scramble for the ball and hit a jumper to cut the lead back to seven at 7:44.
A Waldman putback at 6:50 made it 54-45, but the Panthers went cold and threes by Jacques (11 points) and Galvin (16) pulled the Pride to within three at 3:31.
Both teams misfired until 1:13, when two Panther forwards cooperated for a key hoop: Davis threw an over-the-top pass to Kuntz in the paint, and she converted a three-point play to make it 56-51.
Down the stretch Panther forward Betsy Knox hit five of six free throws and Wander one of two from the line to protect that lead and offset six more points from Goslin.
Kuntz had a team-high nine rebounds off the bench to go with her nine points, while Harrison and Waldman each pulled down seven boards as the Panthers outrebounded the Pride, 42-26. The Panthers earned edges of 36-20 in points in the paint and 28-5 in bench points and made 20 of 23 free throws. 
In Friday’s 81-43 romp over 0-2 Lesley, Davis led four Middlebury players in double figures with 15 points to go along with 10 rebounds, Caveney scored 13 points, Kuntz chipped in 11 points and a career-high 19 rebounds, Waldman tallied 10 points, and Knox chipped in with seven points and a team-high five assists off the bench.
Krasco believes the Panthers will smooth out the early-season wrinkles. 
“We know that collectively we have the potential to be better than we have been. I think it’s just really refocusing ourselves day in and day out in practices and games to want to improve and not get complacent,” Krasco said. “It’s just that mentality of being hungry throughout the course of the rest of the season.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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