After a disappointing ending to an otherwise outstanding season, the women's basketball team begins the season as the top-ranked team in Division 3, according to a preseason national poll conducted by the website The team starts its season this weekend at the University of Rochester Tournament, first playing the College of New Jersey on Friday.

The Polar Bears return four of the five starters from the team that reached the Division 3 championship game last season.

Along with co-captains Alison Smith '05 and Erika Nickerson '05, the leading returners include guard Vanessa Russell '06, the 2004 NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year, Justine Pouravelis '06, and last year's NESCAC Rookie of the Year, forward Eileen Flaherty '07. Katie Cummings '07 joins the starters at point guard this year, replacing the departed Lora Trenkle '04.

Seventh-year head coach Stephanie Pemper discussed the team's greatest attributes in the preview available on the team's website. "I've said all along that this team has as much talent as last year's. Like all teams, we need a great defensive effort and we need people to step up and score the basketball. The thing I'm the most pleased with is our practice intensity, our selflessness, and our camaraderie," Pemper said.

The Bears lost many important players from last year's team this May. Undoubtedly, the greatest loss was guard Trenkle, who finished her career second in Bowdoin's history in points scored, with 1636, and third in points per game average, with 14.2, among her several notable Bowdoin career marks.

"Lora Trenkle was the total package, no question about it," Pemper said.

Forward Lindsay Bramwell '04 and guards Courtney Trotta '04, Beth Damon '04, and Kristina Fugate '04 graduated last year as well and provided great depth to the team.

The remaining players look to replace the output of the graduated guards. Julia Loonin '07, Lauren Withey '06, and Ashleigh Watson '06 will need to shoulder a more demanding role this year. Along with the remaining players' increased efforts, several first years will help allay the graduation losses. Marisa Berne '08 and Amanda Leahy '08 look to help replace the missing guards.

Last year's team won 30 games and suffered its only loss of the season to Wilmington College of Ohioin the championship game. The team won its fourth straight NESCAC Championship and extended its D-3 record home winning streak to 44 games. The D-3 National Championship game appearance was also the first in Bowdoin's history.

Depending on the results of the first game of the Rochester tournament, the team will play in either the championship or the consolation game of the tournament on Saturday. After three road games to begin the season, the team will have its home opener on November 30, facing the University of Southern Maine in a matchup of the two top-ranked D-3 teams in the nation.