Still jubilant from an upset win over WPI in its regular season finale last year, Emerson’s women’s basketball team is hoping that its performance against the eventual NEWMAC champions will carry over in 2016.
Both squads went into the Feb. 20 matchup understanding that the result wouldn’t budge the standings; WPI would be no. 2 in the conference playoffs while the 11-14, 6-10 Emerson had already been eliminated from the postseason. Elizabeth Horan nailed five three-pointers and scored a game-high 17 points for the Lions, who came away with a 59-48 victory. The Engineers went on to an NCAA tournament berth.
Head coach Bill Gould understands that the competition might have been taking the game lightly due to the insignificance of the outcome and to prevent injuries before the playoffs, but said a loss was still never in their plans.
“The way we played in that game is the way I felt like we were capable of playing in other games, but we just weren’t ready to be that good,” Gould, now in his 10th year with the Lions, said. “Maybe because they played a little bit down, we started playing better, but even when they started playing well, because you know they still wanted to win, our kids were just like, ‘Yeah, you’re not going to.’”
Ready to Be Good
For the last two seasons, Emerson has put up almost identical numbers. In addition to back-to-back 6-10 conference records, its 2015-16 points-per-game average rose by just 1.2 to a 60.5 average from the previous year. Its field goal percentage increased from 36.5 to 37.5, and its three-point efficiency and rebounds dropped by .3 percent and 5.3 boards per game.
“All of those are going to be better. We’re going to be a better scoring team, we’re going to shoot a better percentage, and we’re going to have a better record,” Gould said. “I am 100 percent confident of that.”
The preseason coaches’ poll placed the Lions eighth out of 11 teams in the NEWMAC.
Fresh off that victory over WPI, Gould now believes he has a full team of arrows in his quiver for the 2016-17 season.
He said the game gave his six returners a confidence boost and reassured them that they can compete in the NEWMAC, but the largest contribution to Gould’s faith in this team is the depth of the roster.
“If one kid’s not having a great game, maybe in years past if that was one of your better players, we were kind of screwed because we didn’t have anybody to replace that kid,” Gould said. “Well, now we don’t have to rely on one or two kids. We’re able to be very versatile, much more up-tempo with our offense. We’re able to push the ball up the court more. Our practices are more competitive because of that; it’s just a better situation for us.”
The number of players hasn’t increased, remaining at 11. The new players, Gould said, who have replaced the graduated Janissa Delzo and Kelsey Johnson, and the three other non-returners, Olivia Still, Lauren Madigan, and Emily Cameron, have brought a skill level so improved from last season that even their practices are more productive.
“If you’re defending well in practice, that means the other kid’s got to work hard on offense, so they’re getting better,” Gould said. “The competition level [in practice] is just so much better than what it’s been, and I think that’s going to help us get ready to play some of these other teams.”
Freshmen Bring National and International Experience
Five freshmen comprise the list of new Lions. Four hail from different regions of the United States, and one comes from Europe.
Center Kenna McCafferty, a 6-foot-1-inch U.S. citizen who grew up in Austria, joined Emerson as a walk-on and is the team’s tallest listed member. Gould said he wasn’t aware she had been attending open gym sessions in September with the rest of the team, and when he asked his players about her, was convinced to let her on.
Forward Leena Kardacz and guard Natalie Clydesdale come from Pennsylvaniaー Kardacz from Harleysville outside of Philadelphia, and Clydesdale from Pittsburgh. Gould said Kardacz was a smart and tough player, and compared Clydesdale to junior Eastin Ashby in her speed.
Gould described guard Kate Foultz, who is from Thousand Oaks, near Malibu, as a “typical California player.” He said Foultz is a pure basketball talent who knows how to play the game. Foultz missed her senior year of high school basketball with a knee injury, but will be playing for the Lions this season.
Quinn Madden from Mokena, Illinois, south of Chicago, brings experience, Gould said, from a strong AAU team, and can play multiple guard positions.
“I’m really happy with this class,” Gould said. “It’s a really great class, it’s got some depth, just a great class.”
Starting Five Still Up in the Air
Even with all 11 players available, Gould said he hasn’t yet finalized a starting lineup.
“Do I start this kid or that kid? What’s the difference, they’re both good,” Gould said. “There’s been years where [it’s], ‘This kid or that kid? Doesn’t matter. They both suck.’ But now they’re both good. That’s a good thing, but also a little bit of a negative because it’s not obvious. It’s going to be a tough decision.”
Horan, Emerson’s only senior and a captain, said much of her squad’s play will feature her position.
“This year we only have two true posts, so we have a lot of guards, but a lot of them can shoot and drive, so we have a lot of skills in that sense,” Horan said. “But we need to play really good defense and help each other out.”
Last season, the performance from freshman Charlie Boyle was a major storyline. Boyle led the Lions in points but wasn’t a regular starter. One thing Gould is sure of—a promotion is in order for Boyle.
“She might be the one kid that is pretty clear cut in that starting role, just because she really is truly the only kid on the team in that spot who’s ready to be a starter,” Gould said. “She is a low post presence, and she really is the only one.”
Other notable returners include junior forward Eastin Ashby, who started 20 games and played over 28 minutes per matchup last season; junior guard Maya Savino, who started all 25 contests and played a team high 29 minutes per; and junior forward Sierra Ducey, who started 24 and scored over 10 points and eight rebounds per game.
“They’ve all earned it. I could start any one of them and be totally comfortable,” Gould said of his entire squad. “I don’t think it’ll matter because everyone is going to get playing time. The pressure isn’t on one kid to be the answer.”
Notable Non-Conference Matchups
In addition to NEWMAC play, Gould has made note of three tough matchups on the schedule, including the season opener tonight against Western New England. After that, the Lions face a contest with Connecticut College on Dec. 6, and a game against Tufts University, currently ranked no. 7 in the country, on Dec. 13.