And there are many reasons for that optimism. For example, the team is a year older. Almost everyone is back, including four of the five starters, and five of the top seven scorers. New recruits are expected to help right away. There is expected improved play from the returnees. And, at least to this point in the pre-season, better overall health.
The idea, of course, in varying grades is to improve upon last year’s record (13-14), and hopefully to better its place in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (tied for third at 12-6).
“We’re looking to improve upon the start of our season,” said head coach Naomi Graves, recalling last year’s 0-4 beginning. “We think we can accomplish that because I feel this squad will be more focused, and has better leadership capabilities.”
“I think we will be more competitive, more athletic, and will have a better work ethic,” added Graves. “And those are all good things to have.”
There are three seniors who return, and all are expected to be in the starting line-up. They are guards Kelly Murphy and Andrea Butler, as well as forward Kelly Slattery. They represent the captaincy among them.
A year ago, Slattery averaged a team-high 13.4 points as well as 6.1 rebounds. She shot .485 from the floor and .734 from the free throw line. She led the team in minutes per game (30.4), and was named First Team All-Conference by the league’s coaches.
“Kelly Slattery is a good communicator,” said Graves of her two-year starter. “And she will be one of our go-to players. She has good basketball skills, and we’ll need those to show up for sure.”
Kelly Murphy will be a four-year starter. A 5-8 guard, she also averaged in double figures – 10.5 points per game. Her 3-point shooting improved to .341, as did her free throw shooting to .767.
“We’re seeing some good things from Kelly,” said Graves. “She will continue to be one our better defenders, and her 3-point shooting has been getting even more improved."
Andrea Butler will be running the show at the point. Her fortes are her assists (80) and steals (73), both of which she led the squad in last year. She is not expected to carry the load in scoring, but she will be part of the team expected to press.
A fourth starter, Emily Walker is another who has improved if early-season practice returns are any indication. The 6-0 junior led the team in rebounding last year (7.9 per game). “She is the workhorse of this team, and I think one will see an improved jumper from her. It would be great if she can become a better finisher.”
Junior guards Meghan Biondolillo and Colleen Dignum will continue in the rotation as they did last year. Biondolillo had some health issues last year, dealing with an early-season bout with mononucleosis. But that’s all gone by the wayside, and she will look to improve her 7.0 ppg output.
Dignum played in 25 games a year ago, and averaged 3.9 points per contest. She has returned in better shape. Both Biondolillo and Dignum ultimately provided a spark by coming in off the bench, and could do so again. Then again, both are candidates to start,
One player who could really improve is sophomore center Rachel Landon. At 6-1 she is the tallest player on the team. Her minutes-played significantly jumped towards season’s end last year, and it’s possible that trend could keep rising. “Rachel is more confident, and has returned with more aggressiveness,” said Graves.
Tamara Tribble is also “greatly improved,” according to Graves. She averaged 2.4 points and 3.7 rebounds last season.”She is a physical presence, and will take it to the hoop,” said Graves.
Briana Freymuth may be a familiar name to some. Now a junior, Freymuth missed all of last season due to a back issue. But she had shown promise as a freshman.
Then there are the newcomers – including a sophomore transfer and four freshmen. The transfer is Hillary Oleson, a 5-7 guard from Roger Williams. She is considered quick, and will provide depth as an outside shooter.
The freshmen will include 5-10 forward/guard Hannah Ebling, 5-10 forward Jaimie Bickelhaupt, 5-4 guard Andrea Moschetta, and 5-2 guard Riley Fake. Do not be surprised if most, if not all, contribute.