COLUMBIA — In the six years that Stephens College has hosted its annual women’s basketball tournament, it has never won the title. It’s a streak coach Dane Pavlovich hopes to end this year. The Stars, with their largest group of seniors in six years, opens tournament play at 8 p.m. Friday against St. Louis College of Pharmacy at Silverthorne Arena.
It's been a season of firsts for Stephens. The team started with a three-game winning streak for the first time in the program’s 10-year existence. This season also marks the first time Stephens will play in a conference. The squad gained membership into the American Midwest Conference in April 2007, but it was too late in the season to enter conference play.
Pavlovich expects the transition from an independent team to a conference competitor will be challenging. The loss of four key players to injuries will be another hurdle the team faces.
Injured players include senior Ali Roper, who was the Star’s 3-point specialist and leading scorer last year. Roper tore her ACL in an open gym session two days before team practices were scheduled to begin in early October. The team’s defensive leader, Bug Dominguez, suffered a career-ending concussion in the second to last game of the 2007-2008 season. Sophomore Anya Serebryakov and junior Haley Caldwell will also sit out this season because of injuries.
“It has taken some adjustment after losing so many players,” Pavlovich said. “But we have to continue. We’ve had some great players step up and perform well so far this year.”
After starting last season 1-7, the Stars found their stride in December and ended the season with a 14-12 record: the program's first winning season. Pavlovich says the winning record has helped to spark a revival in sports interest at Stephens College. He expects a large crowd for the beginning of the tournament Friday when defending tournament champion St. Mary’s takes on William Penn University at 6 p.m. The Stars face St. Louis College of Pharmacy for the second time this year after winning 82-54 in their season opener Nov. 11 in St. Louis.
“Its going to be a mentally tough game,” Dominguez said. “It will hopefully show the girls that just because you have beaten a team once, it doesn’t mean you can take the game lightly. We have to treat every game as if it is a conference game.”
Despite not being able to contribute on the court, Dominguez has continued to support her team as the student-assistant coach. From the sidelines, she says she has watched the Stars develop into a cohesive unit with growing momentum.
“The team is a variety of girls that are starting to click and play together well,” she said. “It being our first year in conference, we know that we are the underdog team, but we are going to turn heads.”