Women's basketball preview: Promising Bobcats open season at Drew tournament

Senior Melanie Binkhorst co-captains the Bates women's basketball team in the 2019-20 season with junior Julia Middlebrook. (File photo by Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

LEWISTON, Maine -- The Bates women's basketball team begins its 2019-20 campaign at the Rose City Tipoff Classic hosted by Drew University on Friday, Nov. 15 and Saturday, Nov. 16. Building off of a 12-12 campaign in 2018-19, which was a five-game improvement over the previous season, head coach Alison Montgomery opens her fifth season and welcomes back 10 returners while adding three first-years to the team.

"Last year we were very young with seven first-years and having them playing a lot of game minutes, and we will be young again this year, because now they are just sophomores," Montgomery said on this week's Bates Bobcast podcast. "We are feeling good about the experience that our young players were able to get last year. We are feeling more veteran than maybe our roster balance shows."

For the second year in a row, the Bobcat roster features just one senior. Last year Bates graduated lone senior Erika Lamere '19 and this year's roster has one member of the Class of 2020 in guard Melanie Binkhorst (West Hartford, Conn.). She'll serve as team captain along with junior guard Julia Middlebrook (Ridgefield, Conn.).

"They both lead us in kind of different ways," said Montgomery. "We are really excited about that. They have really complementary leadership styles. Mel being our only senior, even though it's early, and we've only had a brief stretch of practice, she's playing like a senior with that urgency, and she's really performing well."

A starter in every game last winter, Binkhorst ranked second on the team with 9.1 points per game and 1.4 steals per game. She was also third with 5.5 rebounds per game and 1.7 assists per game. Middlebrook saw time in all 24 games last year. She logged 6.6 points per game, shooting 42 percent from the field and 40.8 percent from behind the arc. Middlebrook ranked second on the team, averaging 2.0 assists per game, and also snagged 1.2 steals per game.

"Julia is really consistent with her presence and the way she shows up every day, her commitment, and how determined she is. She has played a very consistent role for us in games as well," said Montgomery.

The Bobcats will look to junior Taylor McVeigh (Hanson, Mass.) for her experience and leadership in the post. McVeigh will help develop two incoming first-years at the position. Last year she led Bates with 7.1 boards per game. She chipped in 1.5 assists and 4.1 points per game.

Bates' seven sophomores -- Mia Roy (Bedford, N.H.), Meghan Graff (South Portland, Maine), Grace Hoehl (South Burlington, Vt.), Amaari Williams (Brooklyn, N.Y.), Molly O'Brien (Vernon, Vt.), Sarah Bennett (Suffield, Conn.), and Ariana Dalia (Brick, N.J.) -- look to build upon promising rookie seasons.

Graff played in all 24 games, leading the Bobcats in scoring (11.4) and assists (2.8) en route to All-Rookie Team honors from the Maine Women's Basketball Coaches Association. A starter in every game, Dalia led the team in steals (1.8) and blocks (0.9) and ranked second in assists (1.8). She also ranked fourth in scoring, and also won Maine All-Rookie Team honors.

Roy played in 20 games and ranked third on the team with 9.0 points per game. Hoehl played in 20 games and scored a season-high seven points at Middlebury. O'Brien saw time in eight games, and Bennett played in Bates' victory over Thomas last winter. Williams is recovering from an injury and hopes to return to play later this year. She played in 15 games last year, posting 6.3 points per game and 3.9 rebounds per game.

The three first-years on this year's roster are Kayla Bridgeman (Brooklyn, N.Y.), Jenna Berens (Durham, Conn.), and Brianna Gadaleta (Chappaqua, N.Y.). Berens and Gadaleta, who are 6-1 and 6-0, respectively, bring more size to the Bobcat roster and, along with McVeigh, give the Bobcats more true post players.

"They give us a different look on both ends of the court," said Montgomery. "They are a versatile pair who can shoot and give us more scoring options, while also bringing length defensively. I can see that they are already making us better in practice."

A 5-8 guard, Bridgeman is another versatile member of the Class of 2023. "She is a very good on-ball defender, who is really challenging our point guards in practice. She brings a lot and is always working hard," Montgomery said.

Bates plays its season opener against Lycoming Friday at 8pm at Drew, then will face either Drew or Plattsburgh on Saturday, depending on Friday's results.

The Bobcats will play their home opener on Wednesday, Nov. 20 against Husson, in the first of their 13 home games. The Bates schedule features 13 home games. Their schedule includes a trip to Atlanta for games at Emory and Agnes Scott on Jan. 2 and 4. The Bobcats open NESCAC play on Sunday, Jan. 12 when they host Wesleyan.