Their practices look great. Just by the looks of things at a practice scrimmage, you can tell that you’re not looking at an average team. You look at the ESPN Coaches’ Poll and the Poll and they validate your suspicions – this is a very good basketball team. Both polls have the UR women’s basketball team ranked at the top spot-something that has never happened before in the program’s history.Yet head coach Jim Scheible could be happier. In the scrimmage, the blue team nurses an 8-point lead with less than 15 seconds remaining in the game. The white team has the ball, but instead of winding down for the evening, Scheible yells to the blue team “watch for the shooters!” The blue team goes on to win by that same 8-point margin, and the white team runs sprints as punishment for losing. “Defense” is not just a buzzword on the University of Rochester women’s basketball team-it’s the beginning of everything they do. When questioned about why he emphasizes defense so much in his practices, Coach Scheible responded, “You can’t always control when the ball is going in for you, but you can control how hard you play on defense.” Defense is the galvanic force that has the Yellow Jackets holding their opponents to an average of just 53.2 points per game. But as low as that number is, the team talks about playing even better defense. “On defense we can get better,” forward Kelly Wescott said. “We can show more consistency stopping people.” Tara Carrozza added that “finishing” is probably the most important thing the team can start to do better for the rest of the season.Besides defense, another reason this squad is so strong is because there are four starters returning from last years Final Four run. Along with Wescott and Carrozza, the Jackets return Megan Fish in the post and the team’s leading scorer – Erika Smith. The only new addition to the starting line-up is sophomore Jessie Graham, who is a transfer from Washington State University. Graham believes that the change from Division IA to Division III has been positive because “everyone is here to play because they love the game.” However, Graham does find one similarity between the University of Rochester and Washington State – they probably draw as many fans to their women’s basketball games.The addition of one new player isn’t the only improvement from a year ago. According to Megan Fish, a major difference between this year and last year is that “everybody likes each other – there are fifteen girls that get along well with each other.” Fish also added that this year’s team has set higher goals than last year. Speaking of those goals, all five of the starters agree that the only way to end this season is to win the national championship over spring break. For that reason, this team plays every game like it’s their last. They want to approach every game as if a national championship were on the line. Carrozza says that the team does not even think about the lofty rankings and prefers the “one-game-at-a-time” mentality. Smith added that the team has to play tough every week, citing a game against a weaker opponent last year where the team did not play to potential as a wake-up call.Coach Scheible agreed with his team’s assessment. He feels that there has only been one game where the team did not play well defensively. “We were upset. Afterwards, practices were intense and we went right back to reinforcing fundamentals.” Although his team is the top-ranked squad in the land, he doesn’t seem overly excited about it. “[The ranking] justifies our expectations. They’ve earned it. We really want to go out and play up to it. We’re capable of it.” As for his goals for the rest of the season-as expected, they comport to the goals the rest of the team has set – win a national championship. Scheible is not shy about saying as much either. “We can win a Final Four,” he concluded. Somehow, the season wouldn’t seem fulfilling without it.Tipton can be reached at

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