The sharp squeak of sneakers echoes across the wooden courts of Blake Arena. Knees become victims of courtburn, as players undergo the stinging sensation from diving to the ground, desperate to grab the ball. Fingers are unrecognizable, as the swelling and bruising remains hidden beneath layers of tape, strengthening jammed fingers with healthy ones.
The combination of these elements can only mean one thing: basketball season is officially here at Springfield College.
After much preparation, the women’s basketball team is excited and ready to compete. Following a NEWMAC semifinal appearance last winter, the team aspires to come back with a fresh start in the 2016-17 season.
The Pride are lead by head coach Naomi Graves, a three-time NEWMAC Coach of the Year, who is entering her 26th season at Springfield. Under her direction, the women’s basketball program has captured six NEWMAC Championship wins and made six appearances in the NCAA Division III tournament.
Knowledgeable about what it takes to win a NEWMAC title, Graves believes the key to success lies in the culture of their program.
“It’s staying hungry, staying positive, staying focused, and I think that’s huge,” Graves explained. “I think it has everything to do with setting the tone now about what we want out of our season, and knowing that the road ahead is going to have lots of bumps, but we have to overcome those bumps.”
One of those bumps is losing two former starters: forward Heather Lewis and guard Emily Gins. Both Lewis (9.1 points per game) and Gins (12.1 points per game last year) graduated in 2016, after standout seasons.
Having played closely with them as a starter, junior Heather King understands how valuable they were, yet remains optimistic about this season.
“Losing those two was a big loss because they were two of our top scorers and were great players, but I know we have people who are ready to step up,” King said. “Coach Graves has done a great job making a few adjustments to our plays that will help us get other looks from other players.”
Graves is confident that players will step up, including returning starters King, Lexi Windwer, Danielle Racette. In addition to the upperclassmen, sophomores Chelsea McAllister and Gracie Restituyo. Freshmen Alex Goslin and Taylor Hall are expected to contribute greatly this season as well.
In fact, one unique aspect of this team is that it’s exceptionally young. Exactly one-third of the roster -five players -is solely comprised of freshmen. Although highly unusual, everyone is very excited about their talent.
“I think these kids are going to contribute to making us better, either through practice or through games,” said Graves
King commented, “Each one of them has their own unique set of skills that have already started to mesh well with the skills that our returners bring. The chemistry of the team is great both on and off the court and that’s something every team needs.”
This team chemistry is in large part due to the efforts of the seniors.
“Ava [Adamopoulos], Danielle [Racette], Lexi [Windwer], and Molly [McCausland] are leading the way, so it’s their leadership and their legacy that’s stepping out to make us work,” stated Graves.
Using this motivation to work hard for their teammates, the Pride have established a strong foundation for the upcoming season. This is critical because the team is together for 19 weeks, so it can be grueling to remain focused for such a long period of time.
Graves understands this challenge, however emphasises the importance of the end of the season. Utilizing her vast experience, the veteran coach thinks that, “It’s a matter of just peaking at the right time, and for us it’s February.”
Arguably even more important, Graves acknowledges the process necessary to get there. In order to reign victorious, she believes that consistency is vital.
“I think you have to really, on a daily basis, get better… you’ve gotta stay tough and you’ve gotta stay focused until the end,” Graves said.
Given the fierce NEWMAC competition, consistency has never been a bigger factor.
“There’s always about six teams that are tied, so it’s very competitive,” Graves stated. Those teams include Babson, WPI, Wheaton, Coast Guard, and Smith, in addition to Springfield. Throughout past two years, Babson has been the toughest competitor, beating the Pride in back-to-back NEWMAC semifinal games.
Yet rather than dwell on the past, the team will move forward with excitement about their potential this season.
As said best by Graves, “That’s last year and this is this year. Obviously a piece of the drive or motivation is to get back to being where we were, but I don’t really talk a lot about last year. New team, new people, new system, new offenses.”
The women’s basketball team will tip off their 2016-17 season on Nov. 15 at Western New England.