SALISBURY, Md. – After coming off the most successful season in program history by winning the Capital Athletic Conference championship and making a run all the way to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, the Salisbury University women's basketball team looks to focus on growth and improvement in its returners and newcomers in the 2015-16 campaign, while maintaining its winning tradition.
"It's really exciting to see how much growth has happened already this year, and that's something that we just keep talking about," Head Coach Kelly Lewandowski said. "We don't need to win a championship today; it's going to be how we improve day in and day out and that's going to be where we finish in the end."
The Sea Gulls defeated the University of Mary Washington, 74-68, in an overtime thriller to capture their fourth CAC title in program history last season, before finishing their historic run in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
"It was an amazing run; you know it's definitely something we're going to remember and cherish for a while," Lewandowski said. "It was a really special team and they worked really hard and they deserved everything they got, and while it's fun to look back, we're ready to move forward."
Salisbury brings back five returning guards to the court, led by junior Lauren Rothfeld and sophomore Mary McDonagh. Rothfeld competed in all 31 games last season and averaged 5.8 points per game, while shooting over 40 percent from the field. The Dresher, Pennsylvania native also tallied 61 steals last season, which was good for second on the team.
McDonagh played in only 12 games last season at the point guard position, but has already shown vast improvement at the position this year.
"Mary has really stepped up in the point guard position right now, which is great because we struggled trying to fill Anna Hackett's spot," Lewandowski said. "She has really adjusted at handling the ball and will be seeing more minutes than she's ever seen before."
"Megan, with her athleticism, is someone that's really been standing out to us, and Dee Terry has really come along as well," Lewandowski said. "Terry was Rookie of the Year in the conference that she came from, so she has that experience and she has a little bit of that confidence and her speed is going to make up for the loss of Sarah Seipp in that area."
Coming back to lead the frontcourt this season is senior Julia McLaughlin. McLaughlin averaged 8.3 points per game, shooting 43 percent from the field, and led the team on the boards last season, averaging six rebounds per game.
"Julia's career has been crazy, and I think she's really following in the footsteps of Anna Hackett when it comes to that," Lewandowski said. "They were both Rookie of the Year, and Julia was all-conference last year, and she has such a presence on the court when it comes to leadership because she is a stoic and a very smart basketball player."
McLaughlin, along with Alvanos, will also provide leadership to a young team with nine newcomers and will use her experience to help teach and develop the new players on the team.
"Julia has the ability to teach people and talk on their level and really get her message across in a direct way," Lewandowski said. "When it comes to leading the team on the court, usually we look at the point guard, so it's interesting to see it come from a post position."
Josephine Noonan comes back for her sophomore campaign to help provide more depth in the post after seeing limited action last year. The 6-foot-2 post player looked promising on the court last season, scoring eight points and gathering five rebounds against Frostburg State University on February 14, 2015.
"Noonan, who had been battling in the post with players like Aleshia Hobbs, Melanie Mocniak, and Julia McLaughlin last year to get experience as a freshman, has really been putting in the work and she's ready to go this year," Lewandowski said. "She's been using her height to her advantage, and she's got a confidence she didn't have last year."
Lewandowski also brought in a bevy of newcomers that will compete in the post, including freshman Kaylyn French, who will look to make an immediate impact at the position for the Sea Gulls.
"Kaylyn is one of the most athletic people on our team, and she's really challenging people in the post," Lewandowski said. "It's really interesting to see her and Julia McLaughlin compete against each other in practice because of how athletic both of them are."
Salisbury has a tough schedule ahead of it, starting off with a non-conference game at Virginia Wesleyan College on Saturday, November 14, before hosting the annual Optimist Tournament on Friday, November 20 and Saturday, November 21.
After traveling to take on Stevenson University on Tuesday, November 24, the Sea Gulls open CAC play with three conference games in a row, including a home game against Penn State University-Harrisburg on Wednesday, December 9.
After Winter break, Salisbury will travel to Orlando, Florida to compete in the Orlando Tournament, facing Messiah College and Amherst College, who was ranked preseason No. 2 by D3hoops.com.
"Our non-conference schedule is going to be really tough, especially the tournament in Orlando, but we like it that way because it gets us ready for conference play," Lewandowski said. "Adding that to the CAC schedule will make for a good challenge because our conference is one of the toughest in the country, and whoever wins it has always gone far the NCAA Tournament."
The CAC tournament will begin on February 23 2016, with the conference champion being crowned on February 27.
"We are really enjoying coaching and teaching this team, and they are really invested," Lewandowski said. "Last year's team set the tone, and that's what is going to be expected of Salisbury women's basketball from here on out; the tradition doesn't stop here."