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Junior forward Janee'a Summers shoots a free throw after being fouled by a Coppin State University player. Photo from The Retriever Archives.

UMBC women’s basketball plays for the future

Women’s basketball coach Johnetta Hayes came to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County last April after the abrupt resignation of former head coach, Phil Stern. Hayes left her position as head women’s basketball coach at Texas Southern University, where she compiled a 115-73 record, to accept the head coaching gig at UMBC with the mission to take the UMBC women’s basketball team back to the top of the America East after enduring three straight losing seasons.

Beyond the America East, Hayes looks to take her experience from her 2017 Tigers team NCAA tournament appearance and apply it to the Retrievers, hoping it will be the key to the first UMBC women’s basketball NCAA tournament appearance since 2007.

Along with Hayes’ experience, assistant coaches TJ Royals and LaDey’ah Forte, who  also come to UMBC from TSU, hope to add their perspectives on what it takes to qualify a women’s basketball team for the NCAA tournament.

To round out the high level of experience on the women’s basketball team’s new coaching staff is Christie Rogers. Rogers comes to UMBC from Radford University and brings NCAA tournament experience as recently as last year.

Although the women’s basketball team’s new coaching staff has not led to immediate success, their gameplay mentality and experience is the perfect mix when building for the future. By bringing in her strategies, like accumulating rebounds and looking inside the arc for points, from Texas Southern, Hayes looks to almost completely alter the Retrievers’ go-to plays in hopes of transitioning the Tigers’ success to UMBC.

Luckily, Hayes’ strategy is likely to work since the Retrievers’ team culture still stands strong from last year because there were no graduating seniors. If anything, last year’s two-month national search for a new head coach built up UMBC’s team chemistry as the players leaned on and motivated each other through the lack of official direction. Senior guard Te’yJah Oliver was one of the many players that pushed herself without the authority of a coach. This work led to her impressive season as she averages nearly 19 points a game, putting her in second in points per game out of all the America East.

As difficult as coaching changes can often be, Oliver stated that almost nothing about the program change was hard. “The transition into the new coaching scheme was easy because they were patient with us from the beginning,” Oliver said.

However, this patience came with the expectation that the players would work hard day in and day out in order for the new program to work as soon as possible.

“They challenged my teammates and I from the day they got here,” Oliver stated.

Oliver and the other seniors on the team easily fulfilled the coaches’ expectation for an intense work ethic, making them the examples and leaders on the team. This leadership role has helped them mentor the only new incomer to the Retriever squad, freshman guard Lyric Swann, who has been a key player since conference season arrived. Against America East opponents, Swann is averaging 10.4 points a game which may be enough to earn her a spot on the America East All-Rookie team.

With the players immediately buying into Hayes and her new coaching staff’s scheme of looking to outmatch opponents in the paint, shooting fewer three-pointers and gaining more free throws instead, UMBC is on track to improve last season’s record. While their current record of 7-14 may not indicate that Hayes’ plan is working, eight of their 14 losses have come within 12 points and have tightly contested opponents all season.

Even better, the Retrievers are shooting approximately 10 fewer three-pointers a game this season and, instead, looking for higher probability shots inside of the arc. On average, their ability to get to the paint has led to an increase of six more free throws a game than last season.

These seemingly small changes in gameplay have already been crucial in games like the Retrievers’ first win against the University Hartford Hawks since 2011 on Thursday, Feb. 6. UMBC hopes to take these wins, as well as the success from Oliver and Swann, and build off them as they enter the final half of their conference games.

Currently, the Retrievers sit in eighth place (3-7) in the America East with only two wins separating them from the top four. As of rankings on Feb. 8, they are slated to play the University of Stony Brook Seawolves (22-1 overall, 10-0 conference) in the first round of the America East tournament. Even if the team’s leadership and new play style is not enough to raise them to a tournament run, Hayes and her coaching staff are building for the future.

Correction: The print version of this story and the online version of this story incorrectly identified the women’s basketball player in the picture. This has been updated online, and a print correction will be found in Issue 9.