surge at Bentley
At 11-0, the Bentley University women’s basketball team is in a familiar position atop the Division 2 national polls entering semester break.
The Falcons’ early-season success is not surprising, given that they returned 10 players from last year’s 30-2 squad, including senior Lauren Battista of North Easton, an All American who is closing in on the program’s all-time scoring record.
What is surprising is what is happening in the paint. Despite seeing part-time duty off the bench, freshman forward Jen Gemma of Milton leads the Falcons in rebounding. Playing a shade under 20 minutes a game, the 6-footer from Fontbonne Academy is averaging a team-high 7.7 rebounds for the best team in the country.
“She’s done a terrific job and her natural inclination to rebound is better than any kid we have on the team,” said Bentley’s 28-year coach, Barbara Stevens, who watched Gemma deliver career highs in points (20) and rebounds (12) in a 17-minute outing in a 71-59 win over LIU-Post Saturday afternoon.
“Rarely does a first-year player come in and lead the team in rebounding and be a significant player for us. Offensively and defensively, she’s just a tremendous rebounder and somebody who wants to pursue the ball.”
Gemma posted her first double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) in a 71-42 NE-10 victory over Southern New Hampshire in late November, earning Northeast-10 Conference Rookie of the Week honors.
“I don’t try to think about stats too much,” said Gemma, who is also contributing 10.5 points per game. “I just try to go out and be aggressive and do what I can for the team. I work as hard as I can in the time I get.”
Gemma became acquainted with Bentley when she attended the annual summer basketball camp, hosted by Stevens, in 2011 and 2012.
Stevens was impressed by the power forward’s skill set. The question was whether Gemma, who was highly recruited out of Fontbonne, felt the same way toward Bentley.
On the way home from camp in August 2012, Gemma asked her father, Tony, to turn his car around so she could go back to the Waltham campus and make a verbal commitment to Stevens.
“I looked at some other Northeast-10 Conference schools, but Bentley was my favorite and they have such a winning tradition,” said Gemma. “I feel so grateful to be part of this.”
Likewise, Stevens is grateful to have her services. Aside from being relentless at pounding the boards, Gemma is a proven scorer, able to convert from beyond the 3-point line, driving the lane, from the post, or putting back an offensive rebound.
The 2013 Globe’s Division I Athlete of the Year last winter, Gemma scored more than 1,200 points and grabbed 1,000 rebounds during her Fontbonne career, and averaged 18 points and 13 rebounds in leading the Ducks to a 19-3 record as a senior.
A two-time team captain in basketball and volleyball, Gemma led the Ducks to the state tournament four years in a row. They went the furthest when she was a freshman, when the team dropped a 55-52 decision to Oliver Ames in the Division 2 South Sectional final.
OA went on to win the state championship behind Battista, the state’s Player of the Year. Now, Battista is one of Gemma’s mentors at Bentley.
Gemma said she is still adjusting to the college game, which she finds faster and more physically demanding. She credits her teammates with helping her to make a quick adjustment.
“The speed of the game is a lot faster, but we have a lot of older players and they are all so talented that just practicing with them every day has helped me to adjust,” said Gemma. “The upperclassmen on the team are all great role models.”
Gemma is 10th in rebounding in the NE-10, despite playing far fewer minutes than the other conference leaders. Stevens obviously knew that Gemma is talented, but she was surprised to see her develop so quickly.
“She is already someone that opposing teams need to pay a lot of attention to,” said Stevens, whose club hosts Bridgeport on Jan. 3.
If Bentley’s NE-10 opponents are wary of Gemma now, what’s in store for the next three years?
“Jen is only going to get better,” said Stevens. “She displays a variety of offensive skills. She can shoot the three, put it on the floor, she has terrific post moves with her back to the basket, and she shoots free throws very well.”
Battista, meanwhile, continues to be a model of consistency for the Falcons. She scored a game-high 27 points in Bentley’s 86-66 win over Franklin Pierce last week and added nine rebounds.
“Lauren is ready to step up and score when she needs to and she can distribute and play good defense when that is what we need from her,” said Stevens.
Senior Tori Lehr (Cohasset) is also in the midst of a strong season at Saint Anselm. The 6-foot-1 center notched her sixth double-double of the season with a 10-point, 13-rebound effort in the Hawks’ 66-65 win over 14th-ranked Stonehill. Lehr, who powered Cohasset High to the Division 4 state title in 2010, is averaging a team-high 13.8 points per game and 10.2 rebounds for the Hawks. . . .
A tip of the cap to the Massachusetts Maritime women’s soccer team, one of 19 Division 3 squads in the nation to receive a Gold Ethics Award from the National Soccer Coaches of America after completing the 2013 season without a yellow or red card. The honor is the second straight for the Bucs, who finished 4-8-3. MMA was led by junior tricaptain Mariah McGrath (Mansfield), who started 12 games on defense, and by freshman midfielder Mackenzie Wilson, who started 10 games. . . .
Sophomore forward Brendan Burke (Westwood) scored his first two collegiate goals in Amherst’s 4-1 hockey win over Middlebury, including the eventual game-winner in the third period. Amherst won its first five games and is now 6-2 and 5-1 in the NESCAC.John R. Johnson can be reached at jjohnson49@com-