NORTH ADAMS -- There are young college basketball teams, and then there is the women's team at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.
There are very few teams in the country -- in any division -- with seven freshmen on the varsity roster. MCLA is one of them. Most of those teams never start four freshmen. MCLA has.
"I definitely did not know there were going to be so many freshmen," guard Courtney McLaughlin said. "It was a pleasant surprise, because we all get along really well. I think we play well off each other.
"I do think it is hard to have two seniors on our team."
McLaughlin, who played her high school basketball for Joe Racicot at Pittsfield, has worked her way into the starting lineup. McLaughlin joined freshmen Ashley Clawson, Brayleigh Hanlon and Michaela Siver as starters for head coach Holly McGovern.
Some of that has been out of necessity as junior Sara Hamilton has only now returned to playing after suffering a knee injury last year. However, another potentially important freshman is still in street clothes. Kayla Hotaling won't play until the second semester. She hurt her knee before practice started, underwent arthroscopic surgery and won't be ready until 2014.
The Trailblazers got out of Wednesday's first-semester finale with a 3-6 record, beating Fisher College 80-70. They have been in most games, as MCLA has only been outscored by an average of 4 points per game. McGovern's team has gotten to this point without a couple of key players -- junior Sara Hamilton of Dalton and Hotaling -- in the rotation.
"The work ethic and the coaching, I think it was a big transition for me going from one coach to the other," McLaughlin said before the Trailblazers played Fisher College Wednesday night.
McGovern is in her ninth year as the head coach at MCLA, and when asked about the youth of her team, smiled about it.
"Absolutely not," she said. "It's been quite the growing process for this team to come together and to organize themselves on the court. They're getting better at it every day. They just need to be consistent."
The Trailblazers might be young, but it would not be fair to say they're not talented. Three of those freshmen -- McLaughlin, Ashley Clawson and Brayleigh Hanlon -- have all earned rookie-of-the-week honors from MASCAC. Clawson, Hanlon and McLaughlin are 3, 4, 5 on the MCLA scoring list.
Hanlon comes to MCLA from Troy (N.Y.) High School, a school of 1,300 students, and she said she wasn't used to this.
"My freshman year, they had a freshman team [at Troy], and some of us got moved up to JV. There were probably two or three of us and one on the varsity," she said. "It's a big change to come to a school and have seven freshmen with you."
The start of the season may not exactly be what the Trailblazers want, but Hanlon said she and her teammates are close to turning the corner.
"I think we're right there on the corner to turn everything around," she said. "We're working so hard and we have such a good work ethic."
Clawson and Michaela Siver are the only freshmen who have started all nine of the Trailblazers' games. Clawson, a guard from Tolland, Conn., came into Wednesday's game averaging 8.9 points and a team-best 2.3 assists per game. Her scoring average is tops among the freshmen -- all of whom had played in every game this year.
Clawson said that while being on a veteran team can be a good thing, being able to share the trials and tribulations of being a freshman with the others is also a help.
"It's people to work off of and people who understand what you're going through," she said. "It helps us get close too. I don't think it's really hurt us in any way, except that we don't have any experience at this level.
"I think we're working through that."
Hotaling is the only one of the freshmen who has yet to play and has worn her uniform only for the team picture. She has watched the other freshmen experience their growing pains on the court, and can't wait to join them.
"I've never really been in this position before, so I didn't know how much more of the game you can see, just little things, from the bench," said the freshman forward from Ravena, N.Y. "I'll be able to take that and put it to good use when I get back to play."
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