Coaches know what those attributes are. They can recite the litany in their sleep.
Attributes such as cohesion, togetherness, practice making perfect, helping each other out under the boards, boxing out, limiting turnovers, versatility, execution of fundamentals, and simply an old-fashioned “outworking of the other team”.
Those are just a few of the traits that Springfield College Head Coach Naomi Graves is hoping for, indeed expecting, from her troops this upcoming season. If that happens, then perhaps she can expect great improvement from a squad that finished 12-14 a year ago, 8-10 in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference.
With six players having either graduated or electing not to return, there is cause for some concern. Let’s start off by mentioning the tri-captains from last year’s team, including leading scorer Kelly Slattery. 1000-point scorer Kelly Murphy, and all-time SC steals leader Andrea Butler. All have graduated, although Butler will return as an assistant coach.
Slattery, a forward, averaged a steady 12.7 points and 5.2 rebounds last season when she was named a Second Team All-NEWMAC performer. Murphy, a four-year starter at guard, averaged a team-best 30.8 minutes per game along with 8.6 points and 3.2 rebounds. She finished with 1001 career points, keeping us in suspense until the last five minutes of her last game to seal that verdict. And Butler, the point-guard, averaged 4.5 points and 3.5 rebounds while leading the team in steals (107) and assists (96).
That trio has departed along with three others who all contributed in different ways.
But Graves and her staff will be looking to reshape this team with seven returnees, including a threesome of rebounders, one sharpshooter, and two sophomore guards who each look like they have really improved.
Let’s start with the rebounders. They include sophomore forward Jaimie Bickelhaupt, who averaged a team-leading 5.9 rebounds and 6.4 points; junior forward Tamara Tribble, who averaged 2.8 points and 3.3 boards; and senior forward Emily Walker, who averaged 3.3 points and 4.8 rebounds. Bickelhaupt had a very good freshman campaign, although she was limited by an injured thumb towards season’s end.
Tribble and Walker are captains, along with senior guard Meghan Biondolillo, who averaged 7.7 points and 2.2 rebounds. Biondolillo shot well from long-range.
The sophomore guards are both improved, and none too soon. Andrea Moschetta and Riley Fake are diminutive in size, but make up for that in hustle and tenacity. They each have taken on more of an offensive persona – and hope to supplement fellow guard Biondolillo in that regard.
The seventh returnee, senior guard Briana Freymuth, collectively carries a different set of traits that can help this squad. Expected to come off the bench, Freymuth is considered a tenacious defender as well as one who can drive well to the hoop. With her in the game, one can look for SC to press and create turnovers.
“We will not be tall,” said Graves as she looked up and down her roster, and who is now entering her 22nd year as head mentor at Springfield College. “And with only three seniors and one junior in 14 players, we will be young. But what that means is that we will have to rely on our strengths. And that includes many of those attributes already discussed, like speed, execution of fundamentals, and team chemistry. We will need to play well together with a high level of intensity.”
Despite the lack of three of her mainstays from a year ago, Graves feels this team may already be better than last year’s. And that may be due to a renewed sense of commitment from her veterans, and by the level of talent that she sees from her newcomers, of which there are seven.
We’ll list the newcomers in alphabetical order. First up is 5-2 sophomore Brittany Gage, the first of two local products from West Springfield, Mass. A transfer from Nichols College, Gage possesses good speed and great tenacity. “She may be small, but she is strong,” said Graves.
Up next is Emily Gins, a 5-10 freshman from Fort Myers, Fla. Gins was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., which is why she is nicknamed “Brooklyn.” She averaged 19.6 points and 12.4 rebounds for her high school team. “She is physical and exudes energy,” said Graves.
Chrissy James is a 5-6 freshman guard from Valatie, N.Y. Described as “athletic”, she also played volleyball in high school. “Chrissy has a quick first step off the drive, and is a good rebounder for her size,” said Graves.
Jessie Klauer is a 5-5 freshman point-guard from Lunenburg, Mass. She was an All-Star as a senior. “Jessie is another quick guard who will see significant minutes. She is all business on the court,” said Graves.
Heather Lewis is a 5-10 freshman guard from Saratoga Springs, N.Y. “Heather is quick and smart,” said Graves. “She can shoot it very well from 15-feet. I think she will be an impact player.”
Emily Taylor is a 5-6 freshman guard and local product from West Springfield. She was First Team All-Western Mass as well as a captain in three different sports – basketball, softball, and cross country. “She will help us,” said Graves, “and is another player with good tenacity.”
And finally, there is Alyssa Unikewicz, a 5-4 freshman guard from Portland, Conn. She was an All-State player in soccer in high school. “Alyssa is a three-point shooter and very hard worker,” said Graves.
“I can see promise in every one of the newcomers,” said Graves. “We’ll see where that lands us as a team.”
The schedule will not be easy. “Babson has been the dominant team the last few years within our conference (NEWMAC), and they will be very good once again,” said Graves. “But this league has a lot of good coaches who can adjust well. We will play some excellent teams, especially at the top of our schedule. But I’m hoping that our youthful team can improve throughout the season and be a force by year’s end.”