WALTHAM, Mass. -- There will be no easing into the 2019-20 season for the Bentley University women's basketball team. Four of the first six contests will be against teams that competed in the NCAA Division II championships last March.
The first of that difficult stretch will come Friday when Women's Basketball Hall of Famer Barbara Stevens begins her 43rd year as a head coach and 34th Bentley season in Philadelphia against the University of Sciences, a 30-3 team a year ago, in the opening game of the Northeast-10/CACC Challenge. Tip off at USciences' Athletic Recreation Center is at 7 pm and a pay-per-view webcast will be available at https://caccnetwork.com/usciences/.
The opening weekend tournament will continue on the same court Saturday at noon with the Falcons taking on the Goldey-Beacom College Lightning.
The following weekend, Bentley will be in Florida to face Florida Southern on Nov. 16 and Nova Southeastern on Nov. 18. Those two teams met in the South Region championship game with Nova advancing to the Elite Eight and Florida Southern finishing 30-4. The pre-Thanksgiving portion of the schedule also includes the Falcons opening their NE10 schedule at home against Stonehill, also an NCAA team last season, on Nov. 26.
Stevens, whose win count stands at an amazing 1,039, has ten players back from last year's 28-4 team but graduated a pair of All-Conference honorees in center Victoria Lux (1,236 points) and point guard Amy McConnell (10.3 PPG).
Among the returnees are junior guard Katie Meriggioli (Waunakee, Wis./Edgewood HS) and graduate student Megan Lewis (Sevenoaks, England), both of whom received honorable mention All-Northeast-10 recognition for their play a year ago.
Meriggioli emerged as one of the team's top scorers and rebounders last season with her averages of 11.3 points and 6.9 rebounds both ranking second on the team. Lewis, a second-year co-captain and a starter in 18 of the 22 games she played, scored 9.9 points a game and also gave her team five rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 steals per contest.
Senior guard Maddy Springfield (Jaffrey, N.H./Conant HS) started every game and averaged six points and 5.4 rebounds. Senior Monica Viapiano (Holden/Holy Name HS), who shared post duties with Lux last season, was among the conference leaders in points per 40 minutes, averaging 10.2 overall with a .545 field goal percentage while playing 17.5 minutes a game.
Senior guard and co-captain Julia Ford (Charlton/Noble and Greenough School) and junior forward Marissa Fontaine (Franklin/Bishop Feehan HS) were also part of last year's rotation with each contributing over five points a game. Ford connected at a 44 percent success rate from three and Fontaine's 46 triples was tied for second on the team.
Returnees also include six-foot-one junior Erin Nolan (Binghamton, N.Y./Susquehanna Valley HS), senior forward Gabrielle Brooks (Mount Kisco. N.Y./Choate Rosemary Hall School) and a pair of sophomores who had their freshman years cut short by injury, Kolleen Bouchard (Houlton, Maine/ Houlton HS) and Hartlee Meier (Southington, Conn./Marianapolis Prep). Of that group, Bouchard was the most productive last season, averaging 7.4 points in 13 games.
Stevens has bolstered her roster with three newcomers, including sophomore guard Kari Brekke (Appleton, Wis./Appleton North HS). She was the America East Rookie of the Year last season after producing 10 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists a game at New Hampshire.
The two freshmen are guard Ella Thompson (Greenwood, Ind./Center Grove HS) and six-foot-two Bri Gillen (Lakeville/Bishop Feehan HS). Gillen's father, Bill, played for the Bentley men's team from 1990-94.
Stevens' team was recognized in a number of Division II preseason national rankings. The Falcons were listed 15th by NCAA.com, 23rd by Women's Division II Bulletin and 25th by D2SIDA. In the WBCA rankings, they just missed out on the top 25.
USciences, ranked 17th preseason by the WBCA, returns four of its top six, including junior guard Irisa Ye. She led the Devils in scoring at 17 a game and had an outstanding shooting season. She connected on 56 percent of her shots overall, made 44 percent of her threes and hit 83 percent of her 160 free throws. Senior guard Jordan Vitelli, who averaged 10.4 points, is the other returning double-figure scorer.
Last year, USciences was responsible for one of Bentley's four losses, a 76-71 decision in late December at the Dana Center.
Goldey-Beacom returns four of its top six scorers, including senior guard Amanda McGrogan. Like Ye, she showed the ability to get to the line last season, attempting more than six a game. McGrogan produced 17.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists a game to earn second-team All-CACC honors.