Last season, it was clear who would see game time for women’s basketball.
Guard Mei-Lyn Bautista would run the point, forward Kelsi Mahoney would be a threat around the perimeter and guard Anna Savino would be a consistent defender. But these members of the squad have since graduated, and players are welcoming a slate of newcomers and players returning from injury to take the court this year.
The squad’s two freshmen, guard Essence Brown and forward Faith Blethen, are looking to add offensive production to a team that struggled to put points on the board last season. The team’s graduate students, guard Ariel Stephenson and forward Alexandra Maund, will provide experience, with four years each of collegiate basketball experience under their belts.
Redshirt freshman guard Tori Hyduke, redshirt freshman forward Mayowa Taiwo and redshirt junior Sydney Zambrotta will also see the court for the first time this season. Injury sidelined Hyduke and Taiwo last season, while Zambrotta needed to sit out because of NCAA transfer rules.
Head coach Jennifer Rizzotti said she expects the freshmen to see time on the court early in the season as she plays around with different lineups.
“I don’t know how many mistakes they’re going to make that forces me to limit their minutes, but we don’t have a lot of guys with experience,” Rizzotti said.
She said with more than half the roster on the bench last season, players are competing to grab a wide-open starting spot. Rizzotti tested multiple lineups and players in different positions at the Colonials’ exhibition game last week.
Blethen displayed her offensive prowess at Boothbay Region High School, averaging 19.1 points, 11.2 rebounds and 5.8 steals per game in her senior year. She closed her career with a Class C state title and 1,223 career points.
Brown said Blethen, who is rostered as a forward, can provide versatility as a guard and cuts fast and hard throughout the Colonials’ offensive system.
Brown also joined the 1,000 club as a senior at Galax High School. She dominated the field her senior year, averaging 17.9 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 3.6 steals per game.
The duo combined for 15 points in 48 minutes in the Colonials’ exhibition game against Mercyhurst last week.
Maund said she and her teammates reached out to the freshmen throughout the preseason to develop relationships with them on and off the court and to help them break out of their shells around the team.
“Having them view us as older sisters who are here to help them and will trust them to make decisions,” Maund said. “So we already worked a lot on getting them to speak up more because they’re kind of timid.”
Stephenson spent the latter half of the preseason rehabbing a foot injury, but both she and Maund have added a strong presence to the locker room. Rizzotti said the maturity and experience Stephenson and Maund bring will help guide a team that does not have a four-year senior.
“We don’t have guys that have played here for three years going into their fourth season, so to have two fifth-year guys, even if they’re coming from a different perspective, come in and add some leadership and maturity, it’s been really helpful,” Rizzotti said.
Maund was a key fixture for Yale, playing 18.3 minutes per game her senior year. Offensively, she shot at a .516 clip from the field to average 5.8 points per game. She pulled 4.2 rebounds per game off the glass in her senior season.
Maund said coming into the program as an older player was different because she did not know the culture of the team. But as she’s become more acclimated, Maund said she leads by example and from an experienced basketball perspective.
“Trying to lead from a basketball standpoint has been my M.O. going into this,” Maund said.
She added that she has developed a close relationship with the coaching staff, taking trips to their offices to ask about plays. She said their close relationship has opened a channel of communication between them for her to point out what she sees on the court.
“I ask a lot of questions,” Muand said. “That’s how I learned. I need to know how everything works and the ‘why’ of everything so that I can be the most efficient I can be.”
Stephenson comes from Wake Forest where she excelled at scoring, becoming the 25th player in program history to score 1,000 points. After a shoulder injury relegated her to the bench her senior year, Stephenson said she is primed for a fierce return to the court.
“I just want to get back to being the player I was before my injuries, being able to be a scoring threat, being able to get stops on defense and always being there for my teammates,” Stephenson said.
She said her three years at Wake Forest have given her game-time experience against stout competition, like VCU and Davidson, that the Colonials have also faced and allowed her to acclimate to off-the-court aspects of the game, like watching film.
“Now coming here, I’m able to take the knowledge that I’ve gained through the experience and help my teammates out and teach them some of what I learned,” Stephenson said.