By Dylan Butler
Jackie Smith looks back at the York women’s basketball team’s accomplishments last year and is still amazed. With a roster that topped out at seven players, the Lady Cardinals finished the season 16-8, 10-3 in the CUNYAC, good for a second place finish in the South Division.
For Smith, who certainly earned CUNY Coach of the Year honors last year, fielding a team thin in numbers wasn’t supposed to be annual challenge.
But as the season begins, the Cardinals are without its top three returnees, as defending CUNY Player of the Year Tamara Taylor, a 5-foot-9 senior forward from Staten Island, Garrianne Brown, a senior point guard, and sophomore forward Ineshia Roberts, the team’s third-leading scorer last year, are all expected to miss the season because of personal and financial problems.
“Right now in the beginning it’s going to be hard to replace that,” said Smith, whose team is picked to finish second behind the College of Staten Island in the South Division. “You can’t replace that with an all-freshmen team. Hopefully, it will get easier as the season goes on.”
Smith again has just seven healthy players as the lone returning senior left, 6-foot-1 center Nicole Perry, is likely to miss the majority of the season with a wrist injury. Replacing 49.7 points per game and a ton of experience is a daunting task for Smith, but the head coach believes she has a talented young team, led by 5-foot-5 freshman guard Tushana Watson from August Martin, that could jell in time for the bulk of the CUNY schedule in January.
“I believe she is ready mentally,” Smith said of Watson. “She’s very vocal on the court and helps the players get better. I think she has all the leadership skills and talent to do just as much as Tamara Taylor did and make this team as successful.”
Additional leadership should be provided by the team’s only two healthy returnees from last year in Jennise Masseus, a 5-foot-9 sophomore from Jamaica, and Tuere “Ray Ray” Mitchell, a 5-foot-10 sophomore forward, who each joined the team late last season.
Joining Watson will be newcomers Angela Melis, a 5-foot-7 freshman forward from Queens, Karleen Serrano, a 5-foot-9 junior transfer from Global Tech, Margaret Benjamin, a 5-foot-9 freshman forward from Hillcrest High School, 5-foot-4 sophomore guard Shatina Brown and 5-foot-3 freshman guard Danisha Coles.
Smith says she expects contributions from freshman power forward Thema Stephens and freshman Essie Esperanza, a point guard from Brooklyn Tech, who are each expected to join the team in January.
“We always start with a big challenge and it goes throughout the season. Our stuff will be tested again this year,” she said. “This team is very enthusiastic and they want to learn. Because of their eagerness to learn, we’re going to do well.”
York, who dropped its season opener 69-53 at SUNY-Old Westbury Friday night, returned to the court Tuesday against SUNY-Farmingdale before opening its conference slate Nov. 28 at Medgar Evers.
Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.