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SENIOR GUARDS GIVE DOZIER SOLID FOUNDATION ON WHICH TO REBUILD

What's up: Attitude and the perimeter.

Attitude is the most important thing for coach Cheryl Dozier. What she likes most about her young team is the way it comes to practice and its dedication to rebuilding a winning tradition.

"It has been the most enjoyable team to coach so far," Dozier said. "They're very committed to the program, every single one of them. . . . We just want them to have passion for what they do, and I think it starts with the individual character we have on this team."

Senior guards Allison Bennett and Talia Merlino will be the mainstays. Bennett was the only player last season to start all 27 games, averaging 6.6 points with 61 assists. Merlino will start at point guard after playing in 26 games and earning the team's most improved player award in 2003-04.

"We're not going to rely solely on them to score," Dozier said. "We need them to be as mentally tough as any one in the program to make sure that if we're put in adverse situations that we can fight through them. Those two are kids who put their heart and soul into the program."

Junior guard Brooke Meunier underwent shoulder surgery over the summer. Ahead of schedule in her rehabilitation, she will at best play limited minutes in the first few games.

Meunier averaged 11.9 points and 5.2 rebounds per game to lead all returning players in both categories.

Watch for freshmen Stephanie Bennett, the younger sister of Allison, and Diana Orozco-Gollaz to make early contributions on the perimeter.

What's down: Experience and the post. With five players returning who saw significant playing time, the Bulls are still young. After graduating Kim Kilpela and Jessica Kochendorfer, the team will need to rely on untested post players.

Junior Amy Kucheran will get some time down low after sitting out last season as a medical redshirt with an injured ankle. Otherwise, look for freshman and Mount Mercy product Heather Turner and sophomore Viorica Badinici, who played one year at Central Florida Community College, to fill the minutes.

The Bulls already have lost two players for the season. Junior guard Erin Lawrenson has taken a medical disqualification for ongoing injuries to her ankle and foot. Sophomore guard Dina Atanas will redshirt the season after having surgery on both of her shins.

Outlook: The season doesn't start easy with a trip to defending national champion Connecticut. If they can survive that without too much trauma, the Bulls could fare well in the rest of their nonconference schedule with challenging but winnable games against several Patriot League and America East teams. When it comes to the Mid-American Conference portion of the season, the Bulls will likely struggle.

Young players typically start with a host of unanswered questions. They are athletic and skilled with the right attitude going in, but what needs to be seen is if they can be mentally tough in a five-point game with two minutes to go. Last season's 6-21 record may be difficult to improve upon with a young group, but if this one stays healthy, the Bulls could win around 10 games and start the climb back to being competitive.
e-mail: amoritz@buffnews.com

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