Season Preview: Experience, confidence will be key for women's basketball in competitive CAC

Season Preview: Experience, confidence will be key for women's basketball in competitive CAC

SALISBURY, Md. – The Salisbury University women's basketball team returns a wealth of experience to the court in the 2017-18 campaign as well as a few newcomers who expect to have an immediate impact.

The Sea Gulls posted their second straight .500 season in 2016-17, finishing 13-13 overall and 9-9 in Capital Athletic Conference play, to give them their sixth straight birth to the CAC playoffs.

Despite the loss of First Team All-CAC guard Lauren Rothfeld to graduation, Salisbury returns four players who started at least half of the team's games a season ago. Head coach Kelly Baskow, entering her seventh season with the maroon and gold, expects the team as a whole, not just a single player, to fill the void left by Rothfeld. "I could see each game kind of having a different leading scorer, and I think that's going to make us more effective and more dangerous and harder to guard," Baskow said.

The team returns nine players from last year's team and welcomes two freshmen and an exchange student. With a roster full of experience and leadership, Baskow hopes to see improvement on last season but realizes it will be no easy task in the always competitive CAC. "We have a really tough conference with three teams being in the preseason top 25 poll, but our goal is just competing every night and just working to get better every day."

Guards

Senior Mary McDonagh will lead the team on the offensive end after starting 25 of the team's 26 games last season. The point guard averaged 7.9 points per game and 4.6 assists per game, which was good for second in the conference.

Fellow senior Morgan Grubb also returns in the backcourt after appearing in all 26 games and starting 14 a season ago. Grubb averaged 4.5 points per game and added 2.3 rebounds and 1.5 assists per contest.

Junior Megan Konig and sophomore Dalina Julien are two players who Baskow expects to see play a larger role this season. Konig appeared in 22 games as a sophomore and chipped in 3.0 points per game. Baskow has seen Konig grow in her confidence, especially on the offensive end. A player who has the ability to drive to the basket and shoot from the outside, Konig can use her length and athleticism as an advantage over other guards. Julien played in 13 games as a freshman and has become a more consistent shooter in the offseason, hoping to spread the floor for the Sea Gulls.

Baskow expects freshman Amber Onyekwere to have an immediate impact. Onyekwere, a 5'2" point guard from Silver Spring, Maryland, is a quick, aggressive player who likes to run the floor and push the ball.

With a mix of players at the guard position, Baskow likes the experience that Salisbury has. "With Mary, Morgan, and Megan returning and getting their playing time last year and getting more experience, I think they have a lot of confidence and are able to spread the floor a little bit," Baskow said. "They're all scoring threats, which is good for us."

Forwards

At the forward position, Salisbury returns the seventh leading rebounder in the conference in junior Kaylyn French. A quality rebounder on both ends of the floor, French averaged 7.7 rebounds per game, including a team-best 3.0 offensive rebounds per game. French was the team's third leading scorer, averaging 7.6 a night while contributing 1.6 steals per game and 20 blocks on the season, which ranked her ninth in the conference.

Senior Paige Bryce returns after starting half of the team's games last season. A forward who can pull the defense out with her midrange game, Bryce shot 41.6% from the field and was fourth on the team in scoring with 6.0 points per night.

Junior Morgan Maturani also brings experience, appearing in 23 games last season. Maturani shot 45.7% from the field, averaging 2.6 points and 2.1 rebounds in just under nine minutes a game.

After a freshman season in which she struggled battling illness, center Rachel Ryan hopes to make an impact down low in her sophomore campaign. Ryan contributed 2.4 points and 3.0 rebounds in under 10 minutes a game, appearing in 12 contests on the year. "She's looking really good early here," Baskow said. "I'm excited about her progress and the way she's developed from last year to this year inside the post."

Baskow also expects freshman Courtney Brigham to help the team right away. Brigham, a Walpole, Massachusetts native, is an excellent rebounder on both ends of the court who has a quick first step.

"We're pretty big and strong for our league, so I think we could do some really strong damage on the offensive end and on the boards in conference play," Baskow said.

Schedule

Salisbury once again faces a difficult schedule, both non-conference and in the CAC. The 2017-18 regular season schedule consists of 25 games, including two tournaments. The Sea Gulls will face a tough test out of the gates, as the first six games are on the road.

Salisbury will also play four teams that made the NCAA tournament last season, including The Catholic University of America, Marymount (Va.) University, the University of Mary Washington, and Christopher Newport University. The Sea Gulls will play these four teams in a five-game stretch towards the beginning of the season.

The season starts on Wednesday, November 15 as the team travels to take on Virginia Wesleyan University before going to the Kean University Tournament on November 17 and 18.

Salisbury opens conference play at Christopher Newport on Wednesday, November 29. The Captains, coming off a Final Four appearance last year, begin the season ranked number two in the country according to D3hoops.com.

Over winter break the team will travel to Nashville, Tennessee to compete in the Nashville Tournament against Goucher College and Millsaps College.

The Sea Gulls will also face Marymount, Mary Washington, and Christopher Newport, who are all ranked in the top 25 in the D3hoops.com preseason poll, in a three-game stretch in the latter stages of the season. "I think we're preparing our team differently than we have in the past, so I'm really excited to see how they've embraced what we're teaching them and how they are growing in the process," Baskow said. "I'm just excited to see them compete and how we'll stack up in a really strong conference."

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