It could be another season of scrapping for wins for Becky Martin and her Western Maryland College basketball squad.
Early last week, she was scrambling just to put enough players on the court to scrimmage.
Four seniors and two promising sophomores return from last year's11-12 squad, but the team's thin ranks could hamper the pressure defense and fast-break style of play that the veteran coach favors.
Co-captains and seniors Angela Alfano and Debbie Shockley, both double-figure scorers, will lead the 10-person squad. Shockley, who averaged eight rebounds per game, led last year's team in assists (101) and steals (129). She shot 36 percent from the field and made 36 percent of her three-point attempts.
They'll get help on the boards from 5-foot-9 senior forward Claudia Hennemyre, who Martin says "plays taller than she is." Hennemyre averaged 4.9 rebounds per game last seasonand sank 34 percent of her shots.
Also back is 5-9 Rhonda Small, a senior guard known for aggressiveness on the boards.
Westminstergraduate and sophomore Susan Head is an off guard who can play forward if the need arises.
"We're looking for her to really come into her own this year," said Martin. "She's a fine player for us."
Head, who played only 15 games last year, was 39 percent from the field and averaged 3.9 rebounds. Marie Pawlowski, a 6-foot sophomore who averaged 4.6 rebounds, could dominate under the boards.
"Experience is just such a valuable quality," Martin said.
Freshmen Andrea Romich from Oakland Mills, Christy McCauley from Mount Hebron and Christa Mose from Elizabeth Seton round out the squad.
They were joined last week by junior Kendra Weible, who has not played basketball for WMC before. She finished fourth in the conference cross country championships, delaying her start with the hoops team.
Thin ranks are nothing new to Martin, whose eight-person squad fought the odds last season.
"People said we wouldn't win five games," she said.
She achieved those victories by playing a four-guard game. And she'll call on her guards, who are adept at three-point shots, again this year.
But she also wants to take the pressure off her perimeter players.
"Last year, we tended to overlook players inside," she said. "We'll look more to post players. We want to play a more balanced, inside-outside game."
She also plans to use a lot of full-court pressure and fast-breaks.
"We'll have to see how we can stand up to the rigors of a long season with that type of play," Martin said.
Defense may also take its toll on the small squad.
"We're very offensively oriented," said Martin. "The critical aspect is going to be the defense.
"Because we do not have a large lineup, we're going to have to play a very pressure-type defense. How long we can sustain that during a game is the question."
Martin adds that she would like toplay more man-to-man defense, but "if it's played the way I like to see it played, it's very tiring." Success, she said, will depend on conditioning.
A schedule that includes Franklin & Marshall University, Johns Hopkins University and Gettysburg College doesn't make things any easier. Those three schools are expected to finish 1-2-3, according to an informal poll of coaches, which sees WMC finishing fourth.
Martin is particularly proud of one statistic that doesn't figure in predictions; her players have a cumulative 3.4 grade-point average.
"We've been successful on and off the court, and we're lookingto be more successful this year."
With this year's season not yetunder way, Martin is already thinking about next year. She knows she'll have to replace those four seniors, and she'll be recruiting hard.
"I'll be doing everything possible to contact players interestedin Division III," she said.
WMC's tuition costs are high, but theschool is still cheaper than Hopkins or Gettysburg.
"The recession is affecting us," Martin said. "But the schools we compete against have the same problem."
In recessionary times her team does provide one positive: cheap entertainment. Last year, she said, several area residents came out to watch the games just for something to do, andkept coming back.
"We're fun to watch," she said.
AH: Young players and thin ranks test team's resolve