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Mitchell sparked new era for Bonnies

When Dana Mitchell arrived on campus four years ago, the St. Bonaventure women's basketball was, at best, an afterthought in the great scheme of things.

The Bonnies had been sub-.500 for eight years and though better players had been recruited for a new type of system -- one that played deliberate, team ball -- Bona women's hoops was well under the radar.

"When I came in, we weren't well known," Mitchell said. "I walked around campus and people would ask me what sport I played and when I said basketball they'd just say 'oh' and give a little sigh. But we built [a program] on working hard and pushing each other to our limits and [fellow seniors Andrea Doneth and Tiara Johnson] and I worked on pushing our teammates. We're hoping that we leave not a legacy but something the other players can fall back on -- that this is what you can do."

What can they do?

How about move from obscurity on their own campus to gaining votes in the Associated Press Top 25, being featured on ESPN.com and getting a mention during ESPN's coverage of the NCAA Tournament.

How about putting together back-to-back 23-win seasons and two straight WNIT postseason berths?

In 127 career games, Mitchell scored 2,011 points -- second-highest in program history -- for an average of 15.83 points per game.

Mitchell, who leaves as the most decorated women's basketball player in Bona history and arguably Big 4 history, may not define that as a legacy, but she and her teammates have clearly been the cornerstones of building a successful program.

And that success has translated into interest on campus and in the community -- something few women's teams in the Big 4 have been able to capture or sustain.

"We didn't matter," coach Jim Crowley said of Bona women's basketball four years ago. "Now, its a rite of spring to have postseason home games. People know us and talk to us and are excited and proud and should be. These guys not only win games but they're terrific in the classroom and set the tone with so many things. [This senior class] took it further and now we look to the future on how we keep building the program."

There are key qualities about Mitchell, Doneth and Johnson that will be missed by the Bonnies. Mitchell brought not just key offensive skills but leadership and a work ethic that set the tone for the team. Doneth was a key defender with the ability to score points in bunches. A gritty and physical player, her game made life miserable for opposing guards and small forwards.

Johnson played sparing minutes, but her contributions on the court and from the bench with energy were important sparks when the Bonnies occasionally suffered from bouts of flatness.

But Bona still returns key players next year -- including forward Megan Van Tatenhove, who gained strength and confidence in her sophomore year, and guard Jessica Jenkins who has a deadly three-point shooting ability.

e-mail: amoritz@buffnews.com

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