Women’s basketball looking to bounce back

The+2022-23+Emerson+Womens+Basketball+Team+%28Courtesy%3A+Bill+Gould%29

The 2022-23 Emerson Women’s Basketball Team (Courtesy: Bill Gould)

By Leo Kagan, Staff Writer

Despite battling through a tough 2021-22 campaign, Emerson’s women’s basketball team remains hopeful for a better season this year, prepped with a wealth of experience to take to the court. 

COVID-19 impacted teams throughout the country, but the 8-16 Lions endured a nightmare situation: a return to basketball with a team full of inexperienced players. Head Coach Bill Gould said this lack of veteran players was the root of the team’s struggles. 

“In non-basketball terms, you don’t complain when your infant can’t walk,” Gould said. “It’s a process they have to go through to get to that point where they can, and as far as college basketball players, we had a whole bunch of infants and toddlers.”

8 of the 12 players on the 2021-22 roster never played a minute of college basketball, which led to a good deal of growing pains when the team hit the court. While it was difficult, the Lions saw the value in their struggles. Returning players like senior captain and power forward Carla Pelino feel their losing campaign is now their motivation.  

“We have a new fire,” Pelino said. “We have that one year under our belt and now we want redemption. We’re trying to move forward with the confidence we lacked last year and get a fresh start.”

Driven to improve upon last year’s record, the Lions are setting goals confidently. The team hopes to exceed last year’s win total and finish in the top three of the NEWMAC—earning a home playoff game—and advance past the first round of the tournament. To get there, Pelino believes the team must improve in two areas. 

“We’re focusing on our defense and [our] discipline,” she said. “Learning from our mistakes quicker and pushing through our offensive and defensive concepts a lot faster than last year.”

The team’s other senior captain and guard Chelsea Gibbons added that team leadership is referring back to the structures of past teams to achieve their goals. 

“Me and Carla have focused on trying to emphasize things that were emphasized to [us] our freshman year,” Gibbons said. “There were rules and if you didn’t follow them, there were consequences. This year, we are trying to establish that precedent. Small things like, we run in between drills and we touch every line, because even though those small things seem stupid, they make the difference in those close games.” 

In addition to learning the ropes of college ball, the team benefitted from struggling through learning systems together, per junior shooting guard Ava Salti. 

“We had to learn how [Gould] wanted us to defend last year,” she said. “It was an adjustment period. We didn’t get into live action until the second week of practices. This year, on the first day, we’re going to live five-on-five.”

According to Gould, the offseason break also aided the players, who were ready to start training immediately following their last game. 

“Most of the time when you lose your playoff game in the first round, the buzzer goes off and everybody’s like, ‘Peace out, we’re out of here,’” he said. “If I said to them after that game, ‘We’re gonna have practice tomorrow,’ they all would’ve showed up. Every one of them.”

The work ethic the Lions demonstrated extends to today as they’re now seeing the fruits of their labor.

“This year, everyone is feeling way more in-shape than we normally would,” Pelino said. “Last year during the first few practices, I would be gassed already, but a lot of us are feeling we can keep up now.”

Aside from conditioning, Gould has identified some other strengths at both ends of the court. 

“We’re going to have much more versatility on the offense,” Gould said. “We have a lot of depth, which comes from last year, with people being forced into roles they otherwise wouldn’t have been in. Defensively, we’re going to be able to switch a lot on screens.”

There’s also a sense of familiarity between players, as only two seniors departed at the end of last year. With a solid core of players returning, Gibbons says the team is closer than ever. 

“We just know each other better,” she said. “We know who’s a good shooter. We know who’s the best defender. We’re working much better as a unit… we’re a much more holistic team.”

Salti says the sense of community on the team isn’t just a product of on-the-court unity, but the bonds of friendship forming off the court. 

“It’s one thing to have a really good team and have success on the court,” she said. “That’s fun. The only thing that makes it more fun is when that team genuinely cares for each other off the court.”

Now a unified roster, the Lions feel they have an advantage due to their cohesion and experience, especially in high-pressure situations. Gould said the team is almost battle-worn now. 

“In war, you’re a private and all of a sudden you get thrown into a battle,” he said. “The next battle, you’re a wily old veteran. You’re still the same age, but you just have a different level of experience. We really went through those battles last year, and now we’re able to say we’re better.”

The Lions will test their experience on Nov. 8 against Wentworth in the Bobbi Brown and Steven Plofker Gym. Salti says the team will be eager to show they’ve improved. 

“I don’t think anybody’s expecting much from us,” she said. “[We’ve got] a chip on our shoulder, and we want to prove people wrong.”