After a winless season last year, the women’s basketball program is ready to quiet the doubters and prove to AU that they are a new team. The squad has welcomed 15 freshmen to its roster to pair with eight returning upperclassmen.
The Ravens fought through an injury-plagued 2017-18 season, at one point playing with just six active players. With the injuries and the youth of the team, the women could never overcome the obstacles necessary to find a win. Head Coach Lindsay Shade is confident that this group can turn the program around.
“After the first two weeks of practice, our coaching staff is encouraged and optimistic about the season,” said Shade. “This team is committed to being a gritty, scrappy, hard-nosed defensive team. With the experience and leadership of our returners and the increase of talent, athleticism and competitiveness within the program, in time, we will take on that identity.”
Shade is excited about the large freshmen class added to the team this season. They will be paired with some standout players from last year, including Hannah Hawkins and Ryana Watson, who were named as players to watch in the HCAC coaches poll.
“I think that the energy is really good this year,” said Hawkins, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder from a year ago. “The girls are a lot more outgoing this year, and we all work really well together. I feel like as a team, we are already pretty close, and that will help in the long run.”
The team has not only made personnel changes, but the coaching staff is being proactive this season in preventing injuries. All players are required to wear ankle braces on both legs in hopes of reducing the number of rolled ankles and sprains.
The players were given a fitness test once a week in the offseason. The test measured their endurance and is a big reason why the coaching staff feels like this team’s young players can transition well to playing at the college level.
Despite improvements to the roster and optimism within the program, the team won’t be without some similar challenges from last year. They will continue to be one of the youngest teams in the conference with almost two-thirds of their roster being freshmen. They also will have no seniors, so they will again rely on their sophomores and juniors for leadership.
“It’s going to be a struggle because of our youth,” said Hawkins. “Other teams are going to be a lot more experienced than us, but based on what I’ve already seen out of the freshmen we will be able to overcome the age gap. They’ve already progressed so much, and they have a lot more room to grow. If they stick with the program, I think some of these girls can be very good.”
Chemistry and athleticism will be heavily relied upon for the Ravens. Due to their depth, practices have become more intense, allowing for new players to get a better feel for the speed of the college game.
“One thing that has really stuck out so far is our chemistry,” said Shade. “We have talked a lot about balancing competitiveness and cohesion. In order to best prepare for our opponents, it’s important for our players to compete against one another at a high level. United in purpose to prepare for opponents, they have been able to compete with each other while remaining cohesive as a unit.”
Shade also said the ball movement is great on the offensive end. She was amazed by how unselfish her team has already become and thinks that it is one of many differences between this team and last year’s team.
“The most obvious difference in this year’s women’s basketball team is the size of our roster,” said Shade. “With our returners having another year of experience under their belts and the addition of the freshmen, we are much deeper than we have been in the past. In general, we have more size and athleticism than in years past.”
“At first it was weird to see all the new freshmen coming in,” added Hawkins. “I had to realize that now Coach Shade expects me to be a leader. I remember looking up to my teammates last year, and they didn’t even realize how much of an impact they had on me. Now it’s my turn to be a rolemodel for the new players.”
The Ravens will continue to practice hard in preparation for the upcoming season. They will begin play on Nov. 10 when they host Principia. HCAC play will kick off on Dec. 1.