During her 35 seasons as a head women’s basketball coach, Bentley University’s Hall of Famer Barbara Stevens has mentored her share of really good players.

Stevens has won 848 games in her career, and led the Falcons to 25 NCAA tournament appearances in 26 years at the helm of the program. And despite all of her success over the years, Stevens knows that players like sophomore forward Lauren Battista do not come around very often.

She is probably the most versatile player we’ve had in our program. We've asked her to do pretty much everything for us.
-- Bentley head coach Barbara Stevens

“She is one of those special players that you rarely get a chance to coach during the course of a career,” Stevens said. “She’s a wonderful young woman. She’s extremely bright and extremely motivated – on the court and off the court.”

Battista, a six-foot forward, reminds Stevens of a “point forward” the term used to describe NBA legend Larry Bird. The offense flows through Battista no matter where she is on the floor. 

“She is probably the most versatile player we’ve had in our program,” Stevens said. “We’ve asked her to do pretty much everything for us. She scores, she rebounds, she defends, she breaks pressure.”

Battista, a native of North Easton, Mass., leads the Falcons in scoring (17.0 ppg), rebounding (7.1 rpg) and field-goal percentage (53.3) as they enter the NCAA Division II East Regional beginning March 9. Her contributions earned her Northeast-10 Conference Player of the Year honors. Last week, Battista followed it up with her second consecutive NE-10 Most Valuable Player award as Bentley repeated as league champions. 

Battista grew up near Stonehill College, one of Bentley’s fiercest rivals in the Northeast-10 Conference, and enjoyed going to Stonehill-Bentley games as a youngster. Her parents met at Bentley and are both graduates of the school. Battista’s first real introduction to Bentley basketball and Stevens was at summer camp. 

When she was being recruited, Battista learned of another tie to Bentley. Her coach at Oliver Ames High School, Elaine Clement-Holbrook, was the former teammate and college roommate of Stevens at Bridgewater State.  Despite the connection, Clement-Holbrook stayed neutral during Battista’s recruitment. 

“Automatically, people would think it would have been a done deal,” Stevens said.  “Honestly, it really wasn’t. Her high school coach tried not to influence Lauren in any way and wanted her to make the decision.” 

But the level of comfort Battista felt at Bentley certainly helped the Falcons land the 2010 Massachusetts Player of the Year, who led her high school to the Division II state title in her senior season.

“I loved my high school coach and she was such a great role model for me it reassured me I would be getting more of the same at Bentley,” Battista said.  “Coach Stevens’ track record shows that she’s an amazing coach – over 800 wins and in the Hall of Fame – but on a more personal level, it made me feel good.”

However, Bentley was not the only program seeking to sign Battista. With her credentials, several Division I programs were also looking at this high school star.

“She was a good enough prospect that a number of schools were recruiting her,” Stevens said.  “It was agonizing for us. Any time you’re dealing with a quality student-athlete that is also looking at Division I, it is a tough sell.  But, I think LB is one of those kids that academics is very important to her. She knows she probably won’t play in the WNBA upon graduation, and she wanted an education what would work for her.”

Battista has matched her stellar play on the court with excellence in the classroom. She was recently selected as a member of the Division II Academic All-America second team – the only sophomore on the list of 15 honorees. Battista owns a 3.93 GPA, and has posted a 4.0 GPA in each of the last two semesters.

“This environment has allowed me to excel in both,” Battista said. “On the basketball court, I have awesome coaches and teammates.  It is a great program with a great tradition that really knows what they’re doing.”

LAUREN BATTISTA'S CAREER STATS
Points Per Game 15.0
Rebounds Per Game 6.9
Field-Goal Percentage .537
Free-Throw Percentage .798
Minutes Per Game 29.5
NOTE: Stats current as of March 8, 2012

And while Battista has accomplished a great deal in only two seasons, both she and Stevens know there is room for improvement.

“As good as she is, she’s only a sophomore and has a lot of development ahead,” Stevens said. “She’s grown leaps and bounds since she’s been here.”

“I really have learned so much in two seasons,” Battista said. “I feel like I’m a different player than I was two years ago.”

Bentley will host the Division II NCAA East Regional as the Falcons look to advance to the Elite Eight for the second consecutive year.  Battista and the top-seeded Falcons will try to build on the momentum of their victory against Southern Connecticut State – the No. 2 seeded team in the East Region – in the NE-10 Championship game on March 4.

“It was such a confidence booster to beat a high-caliber team like Southern Connecticut,” Battista said. “They beat us the first time on our home floor. They are really tough defensively and I know that’s something we’ll see down the road. That win gave us a new sense of confidence going into this weekend. We can handle anyone in the region if we could handle them.”

The Falcons are deep and can substitute without breaking stride, and Stevens says they are extremely focused with the task at hand. 
 
“I think they’re in lockstep with each other,” Stevens said. “They know what they’re trying to accomplish, and marching in the right direction.”

Riding a 10-game winning streak, Bentley will face eighth-seeded University of District of Columbia on March 9 at 6 p.m.  The regional semifinals will be played on Saturday, and the title game on Sunday.a The winner of the region advances to the Elite Eight in San Antonio, Texas, on March 20-23.