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Women's Basketball Kicks Off 2006-07 Season

Nov. 2, 2006

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WHAT'S ON SCHEDULE: The Saint Mary's women's basketball team opens the 2006-07 season with an exhibition game against Love and Basketball on Friday, November 3 at 7:05 p.m. at McKeon Pavilion. The Gaels will open the season against Love and Basketball for the second consecutive season and Friday's game will be the unveiling of new head coach Paul Thomas' team.

WHO'S HOT: Saint Mary's junior forward Maija Lahde enters the 2006-07 with high aspirations. Lahde had a very impressive West Coast Conference season a year ago, where she was named to WCC Honorable Mention squad. Lahde finished the conference season averaging 8.9 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. Lahde scored in double figures in five of her last six games, including a team-high 16 points in the Gaels' final game of the WCC Tournament.

SAINT MARY'S VERSUS LOVE AND BASKETBALL: The Gaels faced Love and Basketball a year ago, with the all-star squad knocking off the Gaels 65-59 at McKeon Pavilion. Saint Mary's had 12 players see action and 10 of those 12 players recorded at least two points.The Gaels were led offensively by Monica Mertle, who was playing in her first game since the 2003-04 season. Mertle scored 15 points, including three 3-pointers and added four rebounds and four assists.Saint Mary's was also led by Sheridan Arredondo, who came off the bench to score eight points and grab two rebounds in 18 minutes and a then freshman Jontelle Smith had seven points, four assists and three steals in 15 minutes, in her first collegiate game.

Paul Thomas NAMED HEAD COACH: Saint Mary's Director of Athletics Mark Orr announced on August 9, 2006, the hiring of Paul Thomas as the new head women's basketball coach at Saint Mary's College. Thomas becomes the eighth head coach in the program's 28-year history.

"We are extremely excited to add Paul Thomas to the Saint Mary's community," Orr said. "We had a very competitive pool of applicants; however the search committee felt Paul was the best hire. Paul fits everything we were looking for and we can't wait to get started."

Thomas joins Saint Mary's after serving as head women's coach at Cal Poly Pomona for the past 12 seasons. Thomas led Cal Poly Pomona to back-to-back NCAA Division II National Championships in 2001 and 2002.

"I'm very excited for this opportunity," Thomas said. "This is an opportunity for me and my family to be aligned with an institution that has the same philosophies and background that we do."

While at Cal Poly Pomona, Thomas reached the Sweet Sixteen four out of the last seven seasons, won five California Collegiate Athletic Association champions and was named the NCAA Division II National Coach of the Year and NCAA District 8 Coach of the Year in 2002.After 12 seasons, Thomas' overall record was 235-108 (.685), and was 115-32 (.782) over the past five seasons, which included three conference championships and two national titles.

SEASON OUTLOOK: The Saint Mary's women's basketball team enters the 2006-07 season full of energy and excitement thanks to new head coach Paul Thomas. The Gaels are coming off a 12-16 overall season in 2005-06 and a 7-7 West Coast Conference finish, but return a bulk of talent from last year and will incorporate a new system in 2006-07. Saint Mary's returns eight players from last season and four starters return to the squad.Saint Mary's also has the luxury of returning their top four scorers from last season in Jontelle Smith, Monica Mertle, Maija Lahde and Sheridan Arredondo. The Gaels also return All-West Coast Conference Honorable Mention selections Smith, Mertle, Lahde and Serena Benavente and Smith was also named to the WCC All-Freshman Team.

SHAUGHNESSY RETURNS TO SMC: Saint Mary's is glad to see junior Lauren Shaughnessy return to the roster in 2006-07. Shaughnessy, who started for over a season and a half for the Gaels, returns after taking a year off in 2005-06. Shaughnessy will add depth to the guard position and will help with the up-tempo style of play for Saint Mary's.

THREE NEWCOMERS JOIN THE ROSTER: Saint Mary's welcomes three new players to the squad in 2006-07. The Gaels welcome freshmen Lindsay Ellis, from Sacramento, CA and Kira Kojola, from Espoo, Finland, along with junior college transfer Mattiana Thalley, from Carson CA and Compton Community College.

SAINT MARY'S PICKED TO FINISH FIFTH IN WCC: The Gaels were picked to finish fifth in the West Coast Conference in 2006-07. The Gaels finished in fifth place last year, but return four starters and bring in a new head coach in Paul Thomas. Saint Mary's received 28 points, five points behind Santa Clara for fourth. Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount were picked to finish first and Gonzaga was picked to finish third. San Diego, San Francisco and Portland rounded out the final eight.

WHAT'S NEXT FOR THE GAELS: Saint Mary's will officially open the regular season on Sunday, November 12 when it travels to Berkeley, CA to face the Cal Bears at 2:05 p.m. Cal enters the season with a preseason ranking of No. 21 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll.