Blue Devils in full swing

On the sidelines, the Fredonia State women’s basketball team will have a new look this year with veteran coach Linda Hill MacDonald taking over the program. Conversely, the Devils will have a familiar look on the court with the return of one of the SUNYAC’s top one-two punches in seniors Becky Hebert and Jaimie Warren.

Hebert and Warren were the only two players to start every game last season and will lead an otherwise young team. Sabrina Macaulay, a freshman last year with 13 starts, is the only other returning Devil to have cracked the starting lineup. The Devils have eight new players and three other returnees. A strong recruiting class with a pair of All Western New York performers hopes to propel the Devils near the top of the SUNYAC.

Hill MacDonald, who has more than 300 wins at the Division I level and was the first-ever coach of the WNBA’s Cleveland Rockers, was named the interim coach just weeks before the season.

“It has been a challenge,” she said. “We started off a week behind and that puts our offensive and defensive systems behind.”

Those challenges should be offset by the fact she has a reliable and efficient pair in Hebert and Warren set to lead the team.

Hebert and Warren were a solid tandem last year any way you slice it. Both were in the top three in the conference in field goal and free-throw percentages. Warren led the league in both categories – 83.5 free-throw percentage and 47.1 field-goal percentage. Hebert was second and third, respectively, in the same categories.

Hebert led the SUNYAC in scoring the past two seasons. In 2012-13, she contributed 18.0 points per game, and went for 20.5 per game the year prior.

Warren was in the top five in rebounding for each of the past two seasons, averaging 7.8 per game last year and 8.2 as a sophomore.

Keeping defenders honest, the duo also combined for 56 three-pointers last season, with Warren’s 32 tops on the team.

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A lack of familiarity with the players could have put the Blue Devils behind the eight ball to start, yet now three weeks in, a comfort level has been established. Basketball is basketball, and Hill MacDonald knows her basketball.

“It’s an ongoing process and a daily exercise,” she said of getting to know her team better. “They are learning my expectations and I am learning their strengths and weaknesses.”

A strength thus far, according to the veteran coach, is the senior leadership from captains Hebert and Warren. Hill MacDonald expressed the benefit of coming into a program that has two exceptional players on the court and leaders off the court.

“They are two fine young women,” the coach said. “They have great character and work ethic. (They) say and do the right things. They are great role models for our players. They are team oriented and do not care who gets the credit.”

They are great to build around, with Warren playing the front court and Hebert in the two guard position, but the ball needs to be distributed. With the graduation of Jenna Austin, point guard was the team’s biggest need heading into this season.

Those shoes should be filled by a freshman and a senior. First-year player Alexis Cheatham has impressed coach Hill-McDonald early on, and senior Alicia Mikowicz will provide college experience at the point.

Cheatham is very talented and Hill MacDonald feels she has a very high ceiling. As a senior at Lockport, she was named Second Team All Western New York. She has shown the ability to connect on the long-range jumper, which should help open up scoring opportunities for Hebert, Warren and others.

Mikowicz is a very good ball handler and understands the game. She played 63 games in her two seasons at Jamestown Community College before sitting out last season.

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Hill MacDonald was able to evaluate game situations in the team’s two pre-season scrimmages. She pointed out the performance of sophomore guard Brittany LaForce, who has shown improvement from her freshman season and showed range from the outside. LaForce came off the bench 18 times last year.

Kaylyn Billups, a junior, showed quickness and athleticism and figures into the team’s rotation this year after limited action a year ago.

Another option at guard is Jamie Curry. A 5-10′ freshmen, she offers a lot of versatility. In addition to her size, Hill MacDonald likes Curry’s ability to score from the perimeter and feels she has the ability to back up at the point. She also provides energy on defense. Curry was Honorable Mention All Western New York as a high school senior at Wilson.

Another pair of freshmen, Callie Patsellis and Alex Gelinas, have been added to the mix. Patsellis is a student of the game and is extremely coachable. She can nail the occasional three and will have an impact this year. Gelinas has shown speed and quickness.

In the frontcourt, Macaulay looks to be in the starting lineup. The 5-11 sophomore averaged 3.7 points and grabbed 4.5 boards per contest as a part-time starter last year. With a season under her belt, she will provided needed help under the hoop.

“She is athletic and long, and can play inside and out,” Hill MacDonald said.

At 6-1, sophomore Katie Devine is the team’s tallest player. She has proven to be very coachable and will have more of an impact as she adds strength.

A trio of 5-10 freshmen will add to the team’s size. Kathryn Halloran will see playing time early on and challenge the starters as she adjusts to the college game. Hunter Culbertson runs the floor well and shown great quickness for a post player. Emily Barrett is making great strides and Hill MacDonald feels she will make tremendous improvements as the season progresses.

According to Hill MacDonald, the team’s main goal this year is to finish in the top three of a very competitive conference. She hopes to accomplish that by having a few more players step up and spread the scoring around.

Based on the pair of pre-season games, that plan is beginning to take shape.

“Everybody got in the scorebook in both of our scrimmages,” she said. “We have more scoring options this year.”