Last season, the Emerson women's basketball team could not run a five-on-five practice without needing a coach to jump in.
This year, thanks to the addition of five freshmen and a sophomore transfer student, the Lions will have plenty of breathing room with a roster containing 13 players.
“Right away, there’s a lot of depth,” said head coach Bill Gould. “There’s many of them, which is nice. That’s something we’ve struggled with the past couple years.”
Though Emerson’s 2011 squad finished with a 7-5 record in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference, it had a 9-17 record overall. Players say that this year, they will be able to wear other teams down, something they were unable to do previously.
Along with the ability to tire opponents with fresh legs, freshman Janissa Delzo believes that her class in particular will bring something special to the team.
“We have a really good press group ... We are all fast and we can pressure the ball,” the guard said. “The ability to press in basketball is vital, so bringing speed to a team is an invaluable asset.”
According to Delzo, the Lions will be able to use these strengths right away, as the skills will be factors in their team's success.
“I definitely think we are going to be important,” Delzo said. “We all play a different role on the team, and we bring numbers, which is something that we didn't have last year.”
Gould agreed and said the new Lions’ skill comes in many forms.
“The biggest thing [the new players] have is athleticism and versatility,” the coach said. “Most of them are a good size, they’re fast, and they can shoot, handle the ball, and do many different things.”
According to Gould, the recruiting process was relatively easy. He said it was Emerson itself and the respect its name garners that brought in so many players.
But presence alone will not bring success to the team. Like any freshman class, rookies must adjust to the college game — and freshman Kelsey Johnson is learning to adapt quickly.
“There's a whole other level of physicality,” said Johnson, “Everything is faster-paced. In Syracuse, I was the tallest person in the league. Now the other girls are as tall as I am.”
Players must also get acclimated with the practice system, along with their teammates. Delzo admitted that it hasn't come all together yet.
“We had a shaky start,” said the freshman. “We had to get used to each other and learn how each of us play...but we have really been improving practice by practice.”
Delzo said that the girls did not spend a lot of time together at the beginning of the season, but they are starting to come together.
“We're all really serious about the game, but we have fun all the time,” the forward said. “We have really similar personalities. It's amazing how all of these girls get along so well.”
Gould said that this year presents a big chance for the team’s leaders to bring the squad to success.
“We have two seniors on the team, and I’m really excited they have the opportunity to challenge for a league championship and play in a challenging environment with a team that can win. I’m happy especially that the seniors have an opportunity to do well.”
As for the relationship between the rookies and the returners, Gould said both groups are coming together for a common cause.
“When you’re consistently really, really good, the veterans look at the young kids and don’t give them a lot of respect right away,” Gould said. “We’ve had a couple years where we haven’t had a ton of success. The upperclassmen see the freshmen as an opportunity to incorporate them into the team and allow the team to do better.”
For the players, the wait during the off-season has been long enough. They’re ready to finally take to the court.
“We haven't been having games for the last three weeks now, so we're excited to have competitive practices,” said Johnson. “Practices can be monotonous, so we're excited to start analyzing specific teams. We're definitely going to be more serious about playing.”
The girls tip off this Saturday at the Brown and Plofker Gym against Green Mountain College.
Grady can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.