Women’s Basketball to Enter the Jenkins Era

Quinn Hull

In 2008, when Kerry Jenkins accepted the women’s basketball head coach position at Oberlin College, his colleagues at the University of Vermont judged him to be a little off his rocker.

“Everybody thought I was insane, ” Jenkins said.

He was leaving behind a productive position as assistant coach with the Lady Catamount. Meanwhile, the lowly Division III Yeowomen had struggled through yet another losing season, and the prospects looked slim for the future.

But when Jenkins stepped on Oberlin’s campus it felt different, right somehow.

“When I got here, I thought I saw something special, I thought I saw something I could build a program on,” he said.

The results didn’t come at first. During his initial two years in Ohio, Jenkins had to watch from afar as Vermont’s women reached back-to-back NCAA Division I tournaments (that’d be the “March Madness” that inundates TVs and public fascination each spring). Meanwhile, the Yeowomen struggled through back-to-back 5—21 seasons in the obscurity of intercollegiate athletics’ lowest division. Jenkins, perhaps, had discovered the plight of Oberlin College sports — they’re mediocre at best.

But Jenkins remained determined to redefine that athletic paradigm. Last year’s team erupted out of the gates, starting 4—4 before finishing the season with an imperfect but respectable, 8—18 record.

And if you talk to him today about the Yeowomen’s upcoming season, an excited look enters Jenkins’ eyes.

“You never want to put the cart before the horse,” Jenkins said, shying away from setting forth any quantifiable goals for his squad, but “the ceiling is so high.”

The team has been buoyed by an influx of players talented and committed enough to propel the Yeowomen from mediocrity to excellence. This year’s squad loses graduated co-captains Syrea Thomas (who averaged 12.6 points per game last season) and Christina Spencer, but retains a big three of juniors — point guard Allison Anderson and forwards Ellen Neumann and Kelly Warlich.

On the one hand, the team will miss Thomas and Spencer, the final holdovers from the pre-Jenkins era. “Syrea was a big scorer for us, … a good captain and a real hustle player,” said Warlich of her former teammate. “Christina was a great shooter [and] great captain.”

Now that they’re gone, however, every player on the roster is a Jenkins recruit. And that’s exciting.

“This is officially my team,” joked Jenkins. “It signifies the dawn of a new era.”

New era or not, the workhorse figures to be Anderson, a second-team All-North Coast Athletic Conference performer last season. She averaged a team-top 37.9 minutes (out of a possible 40), 15.1 points and 6.3 assists per game, the latter of which was also sixth best in the entire nation. And in spite of her 5’4” frame, she also gobbled up six rebounds per match, good for second on the team.

Meanwhile, Warlich and Neumann, two six-footers, form a bulwark in the Oberlin interior. Last year, Warlich averaged 12.1 points per game and a team-leading 7.2 rebounds per game, while Neumann cranked out seven points and 5.2 rebounds per game before ending her season early due to injury.

Guard Malisa Hoak and forward Allison Gannon, both sophomores, excelled offensively at the end of last season, averaging 4.1 and 6.3 points per game, respectively. And newcomers Christina Marquette and Jackie Toland also figure to contribute heavily, particularly Marquette, who Jenkins contends has adapted more quickly to college than any first-year he’s ever coached.

“We call her ‘megatron,’” he said through chuckles. “We tell her, ‘You must be a robot, with the way you’ve stepped into basketball, academics, everything.’ ”

With all the talent, Jenkins notes that the rest of the NCAC sees them coming.

“We’re no longer the plucky underdogs,” envisaged Jenkins about the upcoming season. “We’re not gonna sneak up on anybody.”

That makes student support even more crucial. Last year, attendance averaged just 126 per home game. The result was nary a home-court advantage for the Yeowomen, who in fact won more games away from Oberlin (five) than at Philips Gymnasium (three). The key this year is getting fans in the stands.

“This has the potential to be one of the more special things on campus,” Jenkins contends. “If we had good crowds — and I’m not even talking thousands, I’m talking two, three hundred people — … [that] completely changes our team. Our potential would be through the roof.”

The Yeowomen open their season with an away game against the Redhawks of La Roche College, participants in last year’s NCAA tournament. You’ll get your first chance to cheer on Nov. 18, when the Yeowomen take on Kalamazoo College at Philips Gymnasium. Game time is slated for 7:30 p.m.