Wednesday November 14, 2012

NORTH ADAMS -- For both MCLA basketball teams, the 2012-13 season could be considered rebuilding years.

For the MCLA men, it's all about how head coach Jamie Morrison will replace four of last year's top five scorers and improve on last year's 8-19 record.

For the MCLA women, head coach Holly McGovern will have to see how to fill the gaping hole in the middle that came from the end of All-MASCAC standout Jen Wehner's Trailblazers career.

The MCLA men have until Monday to figure things out. The Trailblazers will open at home that night against Nichols College.

The women begin play on Thursday with a home game against Daniel Webster.

MCLA men

Morrison's Trailblazers are picked to finish fifth in MASCAC. Westfield State received six of seven first-place votes and is the preseason pick to win the conference.

MCLA needs to replace All-MASCAC second-team pick Jamal Brown, who led the Trailblazers in scoring last year. In fact, the only one of the top five scorers returning is junior Tyriq Rochester.

Senior forward Vernon Cross, from Colonie, N.Y., averaged 8.4 points a game last year, is going to be counted on to fill up the score sheet.

"We expected him to score a little more than he did last year. I don't think he was in the best condition he could have been in," said Morrison. "He's going to have to shoulder a lot of the scoring."

Junior forward John Jones from Worcester did not play last year after transferring from Quinsigamond Community College.

Freshman guard Paul Maurice, who played at Snowden High School in Boston, could step into the lineup and shoot.

Over the past several years, the Trailblazers have not been a team with a lot of big men. Two newcomers, Mike Muller and Kenny Suggs, are both 6-foot-6. Returning veteran Ramon Viches is 6-5 and Cross is 6-3.

Bilal Shabazz will run the point for an MCLA team that will jump into the fire early.

After opening against Nichols, the Trailblazers will play seven teams that combined to average 16 wins last year. That includes a Nov. 25 date against Williams.

"Remember the old UMass? Any time, any place. My thing is, realistically we could play a soft schedule each year and we could be 14-12, 13-11," Morrison said. "We could go out and play people. We could go out and challenge ourselves."

MCLA women

McGovern smiled when the big question was asked: How do you replace Wehner's 16.3 points, 11.7 rebounds and nearly 3 blocks per game?

"We need to defend together," she said. "We need to rebound and put a very strong emphasis on our rebounding."

The Trailblazers, 15-13 last year, not only lost Wehner but also graduated Alie Dobrovolc, who averaged 15.8 points last year. That means the top returning scorer is senior guard Lucy Tremblay, who averaged 14.6 points per game a year ago.

Junior Kaitlyn Chenevert has, in the words of her coach, really turned it on during practice. McGovern called Chenevert the best defender on the team.

Sophomore Sara Hamilton from Dalton, who transferred in and played in 19 games last year, will see more playing time this year and will be counted on to do more.

"She's going to really provide us with an inside presence," said McGovern, "but she can also come away from the hoop and handle the ball a little bit better now."

Hamilton is one of three Berkshire County players on the MCLA roster. Sophomore Kelsey Ouimet from Clarksburg and Drury, transferred in as Hamilton did last year. Freshman Kathleen Nguyen from Hoosac Valley is the third local player on the roster.

The Trailblazers were picked to finish in a tie for fifth with Fitchburg State while Bridgewater is picked to win the title.

"I think opposing coaches would expect us to be [fifth]," said McGovern. "I think because we're going to work so cohesively, we're going to have great team chemistry and we're going to have a great work ethic -- I think we can surprise some people."