KUTZTOWN | The 2016-17 season for the Kutztown University women’s basketball program was one of consistent improvement as the year progressed, with wins in seven of its last nine regular-season games and a berth in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) playoffs.
The experienced senior trio of Jenna Altomare, Alex Heck and Kelsey Watson helped KU to a 13-18 overall record and 10-12 mark in the PSAC, both of which were improvements from the 2015-16
campaign. The leadership and production from this group shined through in those last nine games, playing its best basketball as the regular season wound down.
Last year’s senior class accomplished its initial goal of making it back to the PSAC playoffs, finishing with the No. 3 seed in the East and securing a first round home game after missing the postseason in 2015-16. However, the postseason result left the Golden Bears and head coach Janet Malouf feeling somewhat unfulfilled, as they were defeated by Millersville University at home in the first round of the PSAC playoffs, 69-65.
“Obviously, losing the playoff game was disappointing and we know we could have done better,” Malouf said, “but I think that’s a little more fuel for the fire for our kids this year. Yes, we lost some players from last season, but we return a solid core of kids with a lot of experience, even though they are relatively young.”
Looking forward to 2017-18, Malouf is hopeful this will be the year the Maroon and Gold can secure their first postseason victory since the 2015 season. Despite the loss of Altomare, Heck and Watson, KU returns the reigning PSAC East Freshman of the Year in guard Sierra Taylor. Taylor was an integral part of last year’s success, starting all 31 games and averaging 28.6 minutes per game in her first season.
“Sierra really came into her own as the season progressed, gaining more and more confidence each game,” Malouf stated. “A big part of that was her willingness as a freshman to take the big shots, whether she made or missed them, which helped her to mature from the beginning to the end of her freshman season.”
For Malouf, the excitement for this season comes not only from those who will be returning, but also from a promising incoming freshmen class that features several standout high school performers.
“Collectively, we brought in a lot of kids who can score and shoot the ball, moreso than any freshmen class I can remember in my time at Kutztown,” said Malouf.
This group will be led by Taylor, a do-it-all point guard who dazzled as the offensive facilitator for the KU offense in her freshman season. Taylor averaged a team-high 4.2 assists per game and ranked third on the team in points per game, averaging 11.2 ppg. On the season, the Camden Catholic product shot 42 percent from the field, 29.8 percent from three-point range and 77.9 percent from the charity stripe. In addition to being named the PSAC East Freshman of the Year, Taylor earned four PSAC East Freshman of the Week Awards last season.
Joining Taylor as a second returner with experience is Kalee Fuegel, who started the first six games last season before her year was cut short due to a season-ending injury. Fuegel averaged 6.8 ppg and 4.2 rpg in those six contests and has logged over 400 minutes in her three-year career.
Freshman Karen Lapkiewicz returns for Kutztown after performing admirably in relief of her high-school teammate, Fuegel, starting 20 games and averaging 19.7 minutes and 4.2 ppg in her first season in Maroon and Gold.
Taylor Thames, a rising junior who played in every game last season, will also factor into the guard rotation this season. Thames, a graduate of North Penn High School, averaged 5.7 ppg and 1.5 apg last year and has racked up over 950 minutes played in her two-year career.
Kutztown’s lone senior, Keifonna Ferguson, will also be relied upon heavily for her leadership and effort on the boards, averaging 5+ rebounds per game in each of the last two seasons.
The collection of returners Kaylan Jackson, Alex Leader and Gabbi Wright will also play a part in this year’s rotation in their second seasons in Maroon and Gold.
With six freshmen and sophomore transfer Jenna Widdicombe on the roster, Malouf’s squad of newcomers features plenty of potential and versatility.
Widdicombe, who transferred to KU after playing for West Chester University last year, averaged 4.1 ppg and 3.3 rpg for the Golden Rams in her freshman season. Widdicombe is a long, rangy center at 6’2″ and will team up with Ferguson as Kutztown’s defensive stalwarts in the paint.
As mentioned, excitement abounds from Malouf about the incoming freshmen class of Gabby Bloshuk, Kaila Brown, Rylee Derr, Alexis Smith, Caroline Stauffer and Zoe Zerman. As preps, four of the six were 1,000-point scorers, and this group gathered a combined 15 All-League Honors in their high school careers. This well-rounded cohort will open up the floor substantially and will allow KU to have a more balanced and high-powered offensive attack than in years past, according to Malouf.
“All of the freshmen players we have brought in could play a combination of positions very effectively, which diversifies our play-calling on offense significantly. We have recruited a bunch of players who can fill multiple roles and score the basketball from anywhere.”
Malouf, KU’s winningest coach in school history, discussed her team’s expectations for the 2017-18 season. “Last year’s results, making the playoffs as the third seed and hosting a home game in the first round, is now the minimum standard for this group. We are looking to do more than that this season in, first, winning that game and then seeing how far this team can go.”
Kutztown was voted to finish third in the PSAC East Preseason Coaches’ Poll, which was released on Thursday, October 26.
The Golden Bears open their season with the Wolf’s Bus Lines Classic, which is hosted by Shippensburg University, matching up with Bowie State University and Wheeling Jesuit University on Friday, Nov. 10 and Saturday, Nov. 11. KU’s home opener will be a mid-week matchup against Chestnut Hill College on Wednesday, Nov. 15 at 5:30 p.m. PSAC play will kick-off on Saturday, Nov. 18 at 1 p.m. at California University (PA).
For the first time, fans will be able to follow all Golden Bear contests via live web-stream at home and on the road this season on KUBears.com as part of the PSAC network.