WRITTEN BY NICOLAS FERNANDES

Returning after a (7-22, 4-14 NEC) 2015-2016 season, St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers women’s basketball Head Coach John Thurston knows that his team needs to improve defensivel, take some hard hits in non-conference games and identify the team leader in the beginning of their 2016-2017 campaign.

After losing last year’s star senior Leah Fechko, the Terriers will first need to identify who this season’s star will be. The guard averaged 14.9 points and 3.6 assists during her final season with the Terriers and led them to victories over teams such as the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights, Robert Morris Colonials and LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds.

When a team has a star player like Fechko, the rest of the players rely on them to make big plays and help them out in tight situations and close games. Once that player graduates, the team needs to wait for the new leader to emerge, Thurston said. The coach explained that the leader will emerge by the end of the season’s non-conference games.

“You’re experimenting in those 11 non-conference games, to find out who is going to emerge to take the big shots and make the big plays,” Thurston told SFC Today. “Right now, I don’t know who that’s going to be.”

Sophomore Maria Palarino scored 8.6 points a game during her first season with the Terriers. The 5’10 forward started 24 games and made a tremendous contribution to the team’s 72-65 win over Robert Morris with a career-high 18 points.

Junior Alex Delaney recorded 8.3 points a game last season. The 6’0 forward – who started 17 games last year – also set a career high of 18 points in the Terriers’ 88-78 defeat over Fairleigh Dickinson.

Forward Olivia Levey – one of two seniors on the team — started 20 games and averaged eight points last year, recording a career-high 23 points in the four-point loss to the Central Connecticut State Blue Devils.

The team being made up of primarily younger players will not necessarily make things more difficult, Thurston said.

“You would always prefer that the balance of your team would weigh heavily on juniors and seniors, rather than freshmen and sophomores, but the nature of college basketball, the way it is today, it rarely gets like that,” the coach said.

However, a setback for the team will be the fact that Palarino and sophomore guard Kat Phipps were the only first years who played for more than 15 minutes last season. Forward Tori Wagner averaged eight minutes a game and the other four sophomore returnees did not play for the entire season.

“They didn’t get the 30-game schedule in, which basically makes them inexperienced players,” Thurston said.

Thurston added that it takes 50 to 60 games for a player to feel comfortable on the court.

The team usually recruits players who are good shooters. In recent practices and scrimmages, the women have shot the ball well, but are going to have difficulty defending, Thurston explained.

“The last thing that’s gonna come, which is the most important, is on the defensive end,” Thurston told SFC Today. “It’s gonna take us a while I think to gel defensively. I think we’ll be better offensively earlier.”

The Terriers will travel to Harrisonburg, Virginia Sunday to take on the James Madison Dukes, a team that finished (27-6, 17-1 CAA) after dropping their first game of the NCAA Championships.

Thurston refers to games like their season opener as “money games,” which teams like the Terriers do not have a good chance of winning.

“Money games are where teams are paying you to come in and beat you up,” Thurston said. “That’s the nature of being at St. Francis. You got to go and play money games.”

Teams like James Madison know what their season record is going to wind up being, while the Thurston’s team is going to use the non-conference games to gain experience and prepare themselves for the more winnable NEC games, which start in the last week of December.

“What we’re doing is we’re just trying to get more experience, see what we got to continue to work on, and get better each and every day,” Thurston told SFC Today. “All of it adds up to trying to get yourself prepared for the conference.”

The Terriers and Dukes will tip of in JMU’s Convocation Center at 4:30 pm.