SALISBURY, Md. – A new era in Salisbury University women's basketball begins Nov. 19 when the Sea Gulls open the 2011-12 season at Kean University in the Cougar Classic under first-year Head Coach Kelly Lewandowski.
SU, which finished last season 9-16 overall and 6-10 in the Capital Athletic Conference, returns seven letterwinners and has added four freshmen and two transfers as Lewandowski looks to make her mark on the program.
"Half the team is returning and then the other half is either freshmen or transfers, but they are meshing very well," Lewandowski said. "We've done a ropes course which has really brought the team together and on the court they are definitely seeing each other and working hard."
Lewandowski, who spent the last three seasons as an assistant at Gettysburg College, said she is adjusting well to her first head-coaching job.
"I'm lucky I have a really good staff," said Lewandowski. "All the other coaches here at the University have been so supportive and really given me tons of advice that's really helped me to make good strides and the girls are really supportive, too. They're excited, so I think that's helping us along."
The Sea Gulls will rely on freshman Anna Hackett to play the point-guard spot this season, while York (Pa.) College transfer junior Cinthia Ruiz and senior KC Curran will also see time as shooting guard.
"Anna, Cinthia and KC are going to control most of the backcourt, I think they are a great three-guard rotation," Lewandowski said. "We are confident with all of them handling the ball and they complement each other no matter which two we have in together."
Ruiz averaged 4.4 points and 2.3 rebounds per game in 23 games as a Spartan in 2009-10 and Curran is the Sea Gulls' top returning scorer from a year ago, averaging 9.3 points per game, starting all 25.
Lewandowski is high on Hackett.
"Anna is an amazing point guard," Lewandowski said. "She sees the floor, she's got a great handle, she's got a great shot; she does it all. We are really happy to have her."
Meghan Dunn will also be starting in the backcourt. One of the team's three seniors, she will provide leadership. Averaging 2.3 points and two rebounds per game last season, Dunn saw action in 24 games, starting one. Dunn also shot 86.7 percent from the free-throw line.
After sitting out last season Muller is back for more in 2011-12. As a freshman, she played in 18 games and started four. She averaged 2.2 points and 1.4 rebounds.
Russell played just nine minutes per game last year but tallied 14 assists and 11 steals.
Up front, SU will fall back on the experience of senior Milan Dry and junior Katie McGahagan while folding in junior-college transfer sophomore Josie Hildebrand and 6-foot-2 freshman Whitney Kolakowski.
Dry posted 11 double-digit scoring efforts last season, including a career-high 18 points in consecutive games versus Marymount (Va.) University and Goucher College at home on Dec. 8 and 11. She averaged 8.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and nearly one steal per game.
"Milan will be playing a small forward position for us," said Lewandowski. "She's so athletic that she is going to do great things."
McGahagan recorded a team-high five double-doubles last year. She had 14 points and a career-best 25 rebounds (16 on the defensive glass), playing 43 minutes in a 68-60 overtime win at Stevenson University on Nov. 23.
Overall, McGahagan finished the season averaging 8.6 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.
Hildebrand led Frederick Community College in scoring in 2009-10, averaging 16.4 points per game in 21 games.
Kolakowski will be counted on in the post this season.
Junior Nicole Sisco, who averaged 9.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game in 21 games last season, will miss the first part of the season while recovering from offseason surgery.
Salisbury will play up to four teams that advanced to the NCAA tournament a season ago. The Sea Gulls open the year against No. 24 Kean, which made a run to sectionals before losing to another SU opponent in Christopher Newport University.
SU could play Lewis & Clark College on the second day of the Cougar Classic, which earned a tournament bid, as well.
The Gulls open their home slate against CNU on Nov. 22 at 6 p.m., at Maggs Physical Activities Center. The Captains won the NCAA tournament third-place game over Illinois Wesleyan College, 64-58, last spring.
SU will play the customary slate of CAC games, including the league's NCAA tournament representative, York. SU travels to York on Jan. 14 at 4 p.m., and the Spartans come to Salisbury to close the regular season on Feb 18 at 2 p.m.
"We have a tough schedule," said Lewandowski. "It will definitely prepare us for conference play. I think it's going to be a really good test.
"I would like us to be in the top half of the conference this year," she said. "That's definitely our goal – making the playoffs – and competing in the top half. I think we can definitely get that done."