After years of praying to simply make it to the GNAC playoffs, let alone to the finals, this season the women's basketball team proved that they are no pushovers, compiling a program best 21-9 record.
The women soundly defeated rivals they'd previously dreaded playing, en route to two postseason tournaments. Though they won neither, the Lions were a strong postseason force, making it to the semifinal game of the ECAC tournament and to the final game of the GNAC tournament.
Departing senior guard Maude Okrah, a third-team all-conference team selection, attributes the growth of the program over the past years to the team simply learning to believe in themselves.
"We went from my freshman year where we were praying for playoffs, to my senior year where we clinched second in the conference," the marketing communication major said. "It's just a matter of having confidence in ourselves and our abilities, and getting to have that chemistry. It took a couple years but we ended up getting it."
The players say much of their success is due to the leadership of second-year Head Coach Bill Gould. Gould had many years of coaching experience on the college level prior to coming to Emerson last season, having served as a member of the coaching staff at such athletically successful schools as Boston College and Stonehill College.
Forward Lauren Vassallo, also a departing senior and third-team all-conference selection, said Gould has a variety of traits that make him a good fit for the program.
"He knows what to do, he knows what plays to run, what works, what doesn't work," the print and multimedia journalism major said. "I think also just his belief in us, because I think that sometimes we even questioned our abilities, but no matter what, he always believed in us, and always knew that we could go far."
Many players have received honors in recognition of their athletic prowess. In addition to their all-conference selections, Okrah and Vassallo were selected to play in the New England Women's Basketball Association Senior All-Star Classic. They will play alongside 21 of the other top Division III seniors in New England on March 28 at Western New England College in Springfield, Mass. Sophomore transfer Lauren Zaniboni was named GNAC women's basketball rookie of the year and was selected to the all-conference first team.
Zaniboni is already looking forward to her next season as a member of the women's basketball team.
"We'll be more mature next season," the marketing communication major said that. "We're losing three seniors, but we had a freshman point guard, and it was my first year, and we made the conference finals, so we'll be that much more prepared."
The team's record and their postseason success are made all the more impressive because the team managed to accomplish these feats with just nine players on the active roster, three of whom were first-year players.
The team will suffer considerably due to graduation, losing three players, who shined both as on-court leaders and as point producers: Okrah and Vassallo, who were captains, and fellow senior Bri Papa. All three were starters. Gould said he's looking to add guards to the roster with next year's recruiting class.
"There's three guard [positions] to play out of the five starter [positions], we only had four [guards] total," he said. "Two of them are graduating. By definition we're short. I'm looking to bring in a minimum of four to go along with the two that are remaining, but even more if need be."
Okrah remains confident that the team will be able to continue this positive trend despite these losses.
"It's a matter of underclassmen now realizing that they're going to have to be veterans," she said. "If coach has a strong recruiting class come in and [the underclassmen] realize the roles they have to take, I think it'll be another successful year."
Though she's sad to be leaving, Vassallo said she can't wait to see what the future brings for the team.
"I'm really excited to see what happens in the future with this team, because they can really go a long way," she said.