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Comeback Szn: Women’s basketball set for bounce back campaign

Basketball is back with plenty of excitement and much anticipation. While the women’s basketball team were unable to duplicate the same success as the men’s basketball team last season, this is a new year and a new look for the UMBC women’s team. This season will feature no seniors for the first time in quite a while. Last season featured four seniors that have moved on to new heights including former UMBC star Brittani Burgess who now plays professional basketball overseas.

Head coach Phil Stern sat down to talk about the upcoming season. Stern believes this team has the chance to be special given the opportunity to show the chemistry they have with one another. “There is a lot of competition in practice and competition only makes us better every day, and because of that we’ve certainly gotten better every week in our scrimmages so we’re very excited,” said Stern.

Last season the team struggled shooting from the field with a combined 38 percent from the field and shooting an abysmal 28 percent from three-point range. These two stats helped culminate in a 5-26 record. The team also struggled defensively as they gave up an average of 64 points per game to their opponents.

Of the 31 games last season, 16 were conference games that the Retrievers finished a disastrous 3-13. With the new season, all of these records are a thing of the past and there is something brewing in that women’s locker room. As we look ahead the team will start off the season at the UMBC Event Center facing Gettysburg and Eastern from Pennsylvania before heading off to New Jersey on a two-game stretch.

They return home to Maryland to face Coppin State. As they matriculate through the season they have a tough stretch of Maryland schools to play including University of Maryland College Park and Towson as well as University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Morgan State and Mount St Mary’s. Every non-conference game is crucial to UMBC as it would not only provide a better chance at a playoff berth, but can help develop chemistry as they prepare for the conference games.

January and February are where the schedule becomes extremely important, as conference play begins and every game is more vital than the last. Coach Stern even mentions the importance of conference play, “It’s all about communication, you’re constantly talking to them about each segment of the season non-conference play, conference play, the middle of conference play and postseason.” This team will be prepared for anything that comes their way. This new team will look to their juniors as leaders including junior-guards Tyler Moore and Lucrizia Costa and junior-forward Tey’jah Oliver.

Moore struggled with injuries last season, playing in only 19 games. In those 19 games, she averaged only four points. Costa was second on the team with 54 assists from the post-shooting 38.5 percent from the floor and managed five double-digit scoring games, including three straight against Maine, Hartford and UMass Lowell. Oliver played in 30 games, making 13 starts for the Retrievers in her second season. She also averaged 6 points per game, dishing out 46 assists in 21 minutes per game. Ten of her games included double-digit scoring performances including a seasons best 17 points twice against Hofstra and Towson.

Junior-guard Dominika Skrocka transferred to UMBC from Southwest Tennessee Community College. Her best performance was a 63-point game back in her home country of Russia and led her team to five straight national championships. She shows the vision of a pure point guard placing the ball in the shooter’s pocket to allow for an easy look at the basket. Scoring will come easily to Skrockra as she can easily put up points with her quick release and solid form that could cause defenses to play up on her, leaving open passing lanes that can transpire to an easy assist for Skrocka.

The freshmen on this year’s squad have quite a role to play early in the season. UMBC brings in seven freshmen in an effort to bolster the roster. Freshman-guard Tania Hill brings a fast-paced element to a roster that could have opened up opportunities in transition. Hill showed an amazing ability to see the floor and get teammates the ball in high school and will look to bring that same spark to UMBC. Defensively, Hill has a knack for stifling the offense and creating turnovers that can lead to easy buckets for a team that struggled to put up points.

Four of the seven freshmen are international players. Two of those players, freshman-guards Paula Rubio and Silvia Ferrerrios hail from Spain and can show the maturity of international players not only on the court but also off of it. Stern talked about the importance of these players and how they can be a huge asset as the season goes on. “[The international players are] usually a little more experienced, maybe a year older and this is all new to them. They don’t feel like they’re owed anything and they appreciate everything,” Stern said.

Freshman-forward Eryn Fisher from Kingsley, Australia stands at six feet tall and plans to own the paint defensively. With the physical ability to be a rim protector, Fisher can haul in rebounds while also using her soft touch offensively to put the ball in the basket. Fisher’s ability to put the ball on the ground and get to her sweet spots on the court will prove to be a nightmare for defenses.

Fellow freshman-guard Sariah Penese will look to leave her mark on the team as well. Coming over to UMBC from New Zealand, Penese can find her shot in a half-court set and even more importantly can take the ball coast to coast in transition. The ability to handle the ball is very important for a guard not only to set up teammates, but to also be a floor general and know when to make the right play.

Freshman-guard O’lesheya Braxton and freshman-forward Kayla Jackson round out the freshman class with Braxton being redshirted. Jackson can be a huge asset for UMBC as she can be stout defensively but she can also provide the Retrievers a burst of energy when she moves without the ball and slithers between defenses to find an opening for an easy two. Jackson’s shooting will be a key part as she will not only assert herself in the paint with a quick first step but will also show that shooter’s touch that caught the eye of the coaches.

The coaching staff welcomes a new addition to the team as Taylor McCarley, a former UMBC basketball star, joins the coaching staff. McCarley joins a staff that is familiar with former basketball players as fellow coaches Carlee Cassidy Dewey and Chelsea Barker Walsh are also former Retrievers. This season will be an interesting one for the Retrievers as they attempt to rebound from a season they would like to forget. But with a stronger commitment to trust one another and believe in the hard work they’ve put in during the off-season, this season is wide open, and the Retrievers look to re-establish themselves as a powerhouse in the America East Conference.