Women Poised to Make March’s Big Dance

Coach Gaitley is entering her fifth year at the helm of Fordham women's basketball. Tony Gutierrez/AP

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Coach Gaitley is entering her fifth year at the helm of Fordham women's basketball. Tony Gutierrez/AP

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By Drew Casey

Coach Gaitley is entering her fifth year at the helm of Fordham women's basketball. Tony Gutierrez/AP

Coach Gaitley is entering her fifth year at the helm of Fordham women’s basketball. Tony Gutierrez/AP

The Fordham women’s basketball team finished the 2007-2008 season 0-29. The future did not look bright.

But that all changed in 2011 when Stephanie Gaitley was named the 12th head coach in program history. In her first four years at the helm, the team has reached three postseason tournaments, including the NCAA Tournament in 2014, and has amassed an overall record of 84-47.

As the defending Atlantic 10 champions entering last season, the team finished 21-12, advancing to the semifinals at the A-10 tournament and reaching the second round of the WNIT. Working with a very young team after losing star players Erin Rooney and Abigail Corning, Gaitley was very pleased with the 2014-2015 campaign.

“I thought there was a lot of question marks going into the season [last year], because of losing what we lost the year before from our championship team,” the fifth-year head coach said. “In just assessing last year, I thought it was a home run. I thought we did a terrific job.”

Part of that terrific job was in large part due to then-senior Emily Tapio and then-graduate student Tiffany Ruffin, according to Gaitley.

“The addition of Tiffany Ruffin was huge,” she said. “She was a major reason for our success. And the leadership of Emily Tapio was huge.”

Tapio led the team in scoring, averaging more than 12 points per game, and was a significant contributor on the glass. She also was a key defensive asset for the squad that recorded its third straight 20-win season. Ruffin was a force across many statistical categories in her only year at Rose Hill after transferring from Boston College. The point guard was second on the team in scoring, netting over nine points per game, and led the team in free throw percentage, assists and steals. Ruffin also collected six rebounds per game and averaged over 33 minutes a game.

The two have since graduated along with key defensive player Taryn Durant, and this year the team will look to both familiar and unfamiliar faces.

Key returning starters include senior Samantha Clark and junior Hannah Missry, who have each been mainstays in the starting lineup since beginning their Fordham careers. Clark, who started all 33 games last year, averaged over eights points per game and led the team on the glass with nearly eight rebounds per contest in 2014-2015. Missry, who battled injury at times last season, turned in over nine points per game and led the team in three-pointers with 78.

Other key options for this year’s team will be juniors Danielle Burns and Danielle Padovano and sophomores G’mrice Davis and Asnate Fomina, who all saw action in over thirty games last season. Burns started 15 games and was both an offensive and defensive option at stretches throughout the season. Padovano made just one start, but averaged nearly 13 minutes off the bench and netted a game-winning three pointer against Richmond early in the conference schedule. Davis started seven games as a freshman and continued to improve as the season went on, notching nearly seven points per game. Fomina also matured as the season went on, appearing in all but two games primarily as a ball handler and occasional scorer.

Sophomore Aaliyah Jones will look to return from injury, while sophomore Britt Zappeij will look to become more involved after experiencing American basketball first hand for a full year. Senior Khadijah Gibson looks to make a big impact, but will have to fight through a preseason injury.

In terms of newcomers, the team welcomes freshmen Lauren Holden, Alexia Douglas, Kate Kreslina, Kristen Ryan and Alex Parlato, and transfers Tiffany Suarez and Nicole Floyd. While Gaitley won’t have Suarez and Floyd at her disposal during games because of transfer rules, she hopes that the freshmen will become more involved as the season progresses.

“It’s a lot of learning for them [freshmen],” Gaitley said. “We’ve put in a lot of things early, so it’s just how quickly they adapt.”

Regardless of newcomer status or not, the entire team will be playing in a slightly different game this year. The NCAA has instituted a series of changes for women’s basketball, including four 10-minute quarters as opposed to two 20-minute halves. Teams will now reach the bonus on the fifth team foul in each quarter and shoot two free throws. The one and one has been eliminated from NCAA women’s basketball. There have also been minor adjustments to 10-second backcourt exceptions and rules regarding post defense.

The team has an exhibition with Caldwell College on Sunday, Nov. 8, and opens up its regular season schedule on Sunday, Nov. 15 at Penn State. The program’s home opener is on Tuesday, Nov. 24 against Lafayette.

The team’s remaining non-conference schedule includes games against Texas Tech and Syracuse in Las Vegas, Delaware, Seton Hall, Temple, Princeton and Vanderbilt.

“It’s by far the toughest schedule I’ve had at Fordham,” Gaitley said. “We’ve now laid the foundation. We’ve learned how to win. For us to take the next step and to be considered for an at-large bid without winning the [Atlantic 10] tournament, this is the next step.”

“The schedule we’ve built is the type of schedule I think Fordham wants to play and should play by being one of the top conferences in the country,” Gaitley said.

From an administrative standpoint, Katelyn Linney was promoted to assistant coach, Clare Berenato was promoted to Administrative Assistant and former Ram Jessie Frasier joins the staff as Assistant Director of Basketball Operations.