WRITTEN BY JULIA GIAMMONA
After over 100 years of women’s basketball at St. Francis College, the lady Terriers made their way to the schools first-ever appearance in the “Big Dance”. It was no easy task, but the journey for a repeat is just a week away.
Last season attested to be the Terriers greatest ever in the league. They played their way to a (15-19) overall record and (9-9) in the Northeast Conference, but despite their difficult start, the Terriers did what they do best — fight back and never give up.
“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish” became the teams motto towards the end of last year.
Perseverance, drive, and experience gave them the extra edge when playing Sacred Heart University in the quarterfinals, Central Connecticut in the semifinals, and Robert Morris in the finals — resulting in their first ever NEC championship title.
Although the Terriers took home the trophy last season, this season the Terriers were selected ninth in the NEC Preseason Coaches Poll. But as far as Terriers’ head coach John Thurston is concerned, the ranking is just a number.
“Usually preseason polls don’t affect anything and they are usually wrong. Last year Central Connecticut was picked ninth and had a wonderful regular season,” said coach Thurston. “So it really doesn’t make a difference, its really more for the media, we don’t use it to motivate our players.”
The loss of five valuable athletes undoubtedly influenced the NEC coaches’ predictions for the Terriers this year. The graduation of seniors Sarah Benedetti, Jaymee Veney, Eilidh Simpson, Katie Fox, and Colette Hounshell leaves a big void for coach Thurston to fill.
“In college it’s different because players graduate. It’s not like the pros where you can trade for players or draft for players,” said coach Thurston. “We graduated most of our scoring, most of our rebounding, most of our assists, and you can never replace the experience of playing 100 plus games.”
All aforementioned graduates departed with many accolades. Benedetti, Veney, and Simpson all became members of the 1,000-point club at St. Francis College. Benedetti was named MVP of the NEC Tournament, as well as the Conference’s Women’s Basketball Scholar Athlete of the Year and the ECAC DI Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
Fox ended her career as just one of five Terrier players to score at least 400 points and record over 300 assists. As for Hounshell, despite her injury, she always provided support and leadership to her team.
Together, all five of these graduates scored a total of 1,466 points last season.
There is no denying how difficult it will be to match last year as all four senior starters were the bulk of the team.
“We won games last year at the end because we were an experienced team that could handle the situation where players just make plays through experience,” said coach Thurston. “We don’t have any of that. We have a lot of players that haven’t played any women’s college basketball. Outside of talent, experience is the biggest factor in determining the success or failure of the team.”
Thurston NCAAWhile valuable experienced players are now gone, three returnees are expected to build off their individual success from last season, starting with senior guard and co-team captain Leah Fechko.
Fechko started 33 of 34 games last season, averaging 35.8 minutes of playtime. She averaged .460 percent from the field, .352 percent from behind the arc, and went 76-96 from the free throw line — ending with 336 points on the season. In addition, Fechko averaged 7.6 rebounds per game, totaling 102 offensive boards and 156 defensive boards.
“There’s no doubt Leah Fechko is the ultimate warrior. She’s developed in so many ways,” said coach.
Fechko has always been a tremendous defensive player but now she has also developed into an outstanding offensive player.
“She’s a great leader, she plays hard everyday, and she never takes a day off. She developed from a very quite person who would be in the background to a very vocal leader, as well as a visual leader. I just can’t say enough about her. She’ll be our leader from day one,” added coach.
Sophomore forward Alex Delaney is another returnee who brings great skill to the Terriers. With last years season and this summers practices under her belt, coach sees Delaney as his most improved returning player.
“The confidence of having played last year has really played a role. She makes plays now easily than last year she could make, but just wasn’t sure of herself,” said coach Thurston
Having played 32 games and starting in three, Delaney played the most minutes of any other freshman last year. She totaled 121 points in her rookie season and accumulated 47 rebounds. She also proved to have an excellent long-range shot, going 22-60 from the three.
“I expect her to have a good season this year and I think she will blossom into our next really, really good player,” added coach.
Lastly, coach Thurston sees Rachel Iozzia as a player that gives great dimension to the team. As a former walk on, Iozzia has come a long way. Though she did not get much playing time last year, coach sees a bright future for her.
“She was way down on our list even that year when she was a walk on and we just let her practice with us, we didn’t let her play and now she’s contending for a starting position,” said coach Thurston. “So in terms of improvement I would say hers has been pretty traumatic through her years here.”
As for the seven new freshmen on the team, they are adjusting everyday to playing college ball, never mind the fact that they are playing at a division one level. They are all getting used to a new system, new coaching, and a new environment.
“The maturation process takes a long, long time. That being said, I think this group of freshman is probably slightly ahead of where last years seniors were when they were freshman,” said coach Thurston.
Despite their inexperience, it’s clear that this group has great potential.
The entire Terrier Nation is hoping for a successful season once again this year. The anticipated 2015-16 women’s basketball season begins Sunday, November 15 when they hit the road to play Georgia Tech at 2pm.