SALISBURY, Md. – Concluding last season with a record of 18-9, while placing third in the Capital Athletic Conference with a 12-4 tally, the Salisbury University women's basketball team has high hopes this year with six returning seniors and a replenished depth to the bench.
"I think last year we got on a roll after Christmas break," Head Coach Kelly Lewandowski said about the 2013-14 season. "We were starting to click and believe that we could go further than we had before."
Falling last season in a conference semi-final game by just one point, 73-72, at the hands of Christopher Newport University, the Sea Gulls head into the 2014-15 campaign with unfinished business.
"I think it was a heartbreak losing at Christopher Newport by one, but I think that has fueled the upperclassmen for this season, especially for the seniors who have been with me from the beginning. They have seen the program turnaround, and they are kind of on a mission this year."
Salisbury will look to the guard duo of seniors Anna Hackett and Sarah Seipp to guide the Gulls through a rigorous schedule this year. Entering into their final seasons donning the maroon and gold, both players have already eclipsed the 1,000-point mark, but have so much more to offer than scoring.
"Having Sarah come last year has helped Anna out. With them working together, it has really improved both of their games," Lewandowski said. "They are kind of like yin and yang; Anna is a little bit more calm and reserved, while Sarah has a little bit more energy and plays more on the edge enthusiastically."
Hackett, a three-year starter for SU, is making a case to be named one of the best players to make her way through the program. Already ranked 10th on the all-time scoring list heading into her senior season with 1,241 points and fifth in assists with 384, the Germantown, Maryland native has become a point guard who can take over a game. A three-time All-CAC selection and two-time All-District honoree, Hackett is averaging 15.5 points and 5.5 assists per game through her career.
"Anna has grown so much since her freshman year, not only as a basketball player, but as a leader on the floor," Lewandowski said. "She is very talented. She has gained some range, which has made her even more effective on the court because people have to play her a little further out, leaving it more open for her drive and open up her teammates a bit more. She's our coach out there; she really knows how to settle us down."
Completing the duo is Seipp, who entered her first season with the Gulls last year and overcame all expectations. Playing for Virginia Wesleyan College her first two seasons, the Gaithersburg, Maryland native was named the Old Dominion Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year, averaging 14.6 points per game. Earning two All-ODAC accolades before transferring to Salisbury, she tabbed her third in her first season with the CAC in 2013-14. Last year, Seipp was a threat from all angles, ranking fourth in the conference in scoring with 16.2 points per game, while also leading the Gulls in steals and rebounds with 95 and 144, respectively. Combining her three total years of collegiate ball, Seipp broke the 1,000-point barrier last year, as she sits with 1,160 entering into this season.
"Sarah is just aggressive, and I think she just brings an enthusiasm to the team that gets us going a little bit more."
Back for her senior season, as well, is sharpshooter Courtney McManus, who racked up 108 points from behind the arc, shooting 33.6 percent for the year. For her career, she has cashed in for 92 three-pointers shooting a steady 34.5 percent.
"Having Courtney at the third-guard position definitely helps stretch the offense with her range," Lewandowski said. "I think another thing that people don't realize about her, besides her being a shooter, is she is one of our best guards defensively. She is very fundamental, and we like to put her on the better players on the other team."
Helping add depth to the guard position is sophomore Lauren Rothfeld, who put together a great freshman season for the Gulls, playing in all 27 games, starting in nine. Averaging 4.9 points per game, her dual threat in scoring and defensive abilities give Salisbury a wide-array of opportunities for the Dresher, Pennsylvania native.
"Lauren really came along last year and listened to what we asked her to do. She understands the game very well and I think that is a great thing to bring to this team."
The frontcourt returns depth with four players that saw starting time through different points of last season. Heading the forwards is junior Julia McLaughlin. Earning the conference's Rookie of the Year in 2012-13 after averaging 8.4 points and 4.1 rebounds per game, the Monkton, Maryland native saw starting time in 10 games last year out of the 25 played in. McLaughlin also placed third on the team in field-goal percentage with taking at least 100 shots, maintaining a 40.8 finishing percentage.
"Julia is looking really good right now; she has gotten stronger, she is looking to the basket a little bit more, she is doing a lot of similar things she did her freshman year," Lewandowski said about the junior forward. "We are excited because it opens up another scoring threat for us, and defensively, she is probably the smartest defender on the post because she is so long but also has the ability to move quickly."
Joining McLaughlin is classmate Kathy Albornoz, who started in 14 games last season. A terror on the boards, the junior returns as the leading offensive rebounder for the Gulls averaging 1.9 per game for 44 total on the season. Albornoz finished the season with 101 boards, working for 4.4 a game.
"Kathy is a beast on the boards, she is just so strong. She kept us in a lot of games last year offensively on the boards, just kind of cleaning up, doing the dirty work for us. She also has kind of a guard mentality when it comes to passing, working high-low with our post players."
Adding depth to the forward position are seniors Aleisha Hobbs and Melanie Mocniak, who also saw substantial time for Salisbury last season. Averaging 10.1 and 14.4 minutes per game, respectively, each will look to be a scoring threat in the paint this season.
With the loss of six seniors at the end of the season, Lewandowski brought in a big freshman class for 2014-15 that consists of four guards and two forwards, all of which have made great strides through preseason.
"We wanted to keep a bigger roster this year and bring in a strong group because of having six seniors this year," Lewandowski said. "It has been really exciting to see our seniors take the freshmen under their wing and teach them the ways."
"Having these freshmen compete against these upperclassmen everyday is just making them better, and I think not having the pressure on the freshmen has given them a chance to settle and let them learn from the upperclassmen. But, it also makes our bench much deeper, and we feel very comfortable playing a lot of people right now."
Salisbury will open up non-conference play at the DeSales Tip-Off Tournament on November 15, where the Gulls faceoff against Stevens Institute of Technology to start the 2014-15 campaign. The Gulls will then move on to the second day of the tournament against either DeSales University or Arcadia University.
"Stevens finished last season with the same record as us, a very similar team to us with a good group coming back," Lewandowski said about the opening tournament. "DeSales has always had a very strong program, so we're excited to go to this tournament and see where we fall."
Before returning home for two competitive games against Virginia Wesleyan and Stevenson University, the women will head to the nation's capital to match up with Catholic University of America on November 19. The Cardinals earned a bid into the Eastern College Athletic Conference tournament last season, defeating McDaniel College, 75-63, to be crowned tournament champions.
"In the region, they are three really tough programs," Lewandowski said about the three-game stretch before conference play. "I think it will be a really good test to get us ready for the start conference play."
The expansion of the CAC is finalized entering into the 2014 season, as the conference is now officially a 10-team league. The Gulls tipoff conference play on December 3 against St. Mary's College of Maryland, while finishing up with Penn State University-Harrisburg and Christopher Newport before the Christmas break. The Captains are ranked 18th in both the USA Today coaches' poll and D3hoops.com media poll.
"I think CNU is going to be the toughest team back this year. They have a great program down there and Head Coach Bill Broderick does a great job. That is the only team last year in conference that we went 0-3 against."
Following Christmas, the women will travel to Montclair State University for a tournament that Lewandowski and the Gulls are really looking forward to. To open the tournament, SU will take on Illinois Wesleyan University, who just three years ago was Division III national champion. The following day, the women will take on either Montclair State or Baruch College, both of which are in the preseason rankings. Montclair is placed at No. 10 in the USA Today poll, while 11th in D3hoops.com. Baruch is receiving votes in the D3hoops.com poll.
"It is going to be an excellent tournament," Lewandowski said about making the trip to Montclair State. "Coming back from Christmas, we always want to play a couple games to get us ready for more conference play, but we really think this is going to test us."
The rest of the regular season is conference play with more ranked games against CNU and York College of Pennsylvania. The Spartans finished last season as the conference champions and advanced to the second round of the national tournament.
"York, University of Mary Washington and Marymount (Va.) University are always going to be tough," Lewandowski said about the rest of the conference. "Even though they lost some key people, their coaching staffs do such a good job that we know that we are going to have to come and play to win against those teams."
"We are excited! Getting the preseason votes and how we ended last year ranked in the region has really given confidence to our team. Our upperclassmen are setting an example and leading the way, so we are really excited to see what they do."