SU women’s basketball preview: Optimistic outlook
Posted: November 15, 2012
WINCHESTER — The Shenandoah University women’s basketball team is coming off its worst season since 2005-2006, it’s entering a new conference, and it has just one senior.
New coach C.K. Calhoun isn’t letting her players dwell on the reasons they can’t succeed though — only on the reasons they can.
“She’s very positive on and off the court,” said senior 6-foot-1 forward Nicole Gilbertson, who led SU in rebounds (7.7) and ranked second in points (9.2) last year for a 9-17 team. “One of the major things that she does that is great for the team is every day she just asks us to do our best.
“On and off the court, she wants us to become a better person every day — a better athlete, a better student. And that positive philosophy, you can really see it having an impact on the players. We’re a lot more positive, a lot more supportive of each other, and you don’t see heads down as much in practice. Everyone has a bad practice, but she just does a really good job of picking you up and just saying, ‘Tomorrow, you’re going to be better.’ It’s really helping our team, because we are so young, and everyone’s learning to play with each other.”
The 28-year-old Calhoun was hired in August to replace Michelle Guyant-Holloway, who resigned after posting a 78-78 record in six seasons at the helm. Calhoun spent the past two years as an assistant at fellow Old Dominion Athletic Conference school Randolph-Macon.
Calhoun’s first squad — which opens the season at 7 tonight at Wilkes — will feature a roster of 12 inherited players, seven of whom are freshmen. The other five players are all returnees (three starters), but Gilbertson will be unavailable for an underdetermined amount of time because of gallbladder surgery.
Simply put, the preseason — Calhoun spoke before the team’s 25th practice Monday — has very much served as an introductory session to get everyone on the same page.
One thing that Calhoun firmly believes the team got down pat during that time was attention to defense.
“I think our defense has improved 180 degrees from day one,” Calhoun said. “That’s the biggest part that I’m excited about and the staff is excited about — how our defensive presence is going to be made this year. We really want to hold our teams under their scoring average.”
SU junior point guard Sara “Sunny” D’Amico (5.4 points, 1.5 assists, 1.2 steals) said she feels the Hornets have always been a strong defensive team, but Calhoun is definitely emphasizing that SU be consistent with its approach from game-to-game.
“We do at least three-to-four defensive drills a day in practice, and I think that’s what’s going to be our strong point, because defense wins games,” D’Amico said. “And I think the newcomers realize how important defense is.”
Gilbertson said the Hornets have mostly worked on creating havoc with their man defense, and the Hornets do tip drills in which they pretend to get steals, then run down the court to get layups.
Basically, Calhoun wants the same intensity that the Hornets bring to the defensive end on the offensive end.
“We’re going to be in shape this year,” Calhoun said. “We’re hopefully going to be a team that’s pushing the ball up the floor.”
Calhoun will look to D’Amico to push the pace on offense.
“We noticed it in our scrimmage, when we didn’t have her, how much we needed her on the floor,” Calhoun said. “We turned the ball over too many times when she wasn’t able to play, and the offense is much more fluid.
“Even the defensive presence. She’s vocal, and that really helps out in the guard positions. Because we really are young with minutes and experience besides her.”
SU will also look to freshman Imani Heggins, who is listed as a guard but at 5-9 is capable of playing inside.
Fellow freshman Corin Scott figures to be an important wing player for SU after averaging 14.4 points, 3.2 steals and 2.2 assists as a second team All-Northwestern District selection at Handley last year.
“She’s just attacking the basket very well,” said Calhoun of Scott, who was also not available to the team in its scrimmage because of injury. “She’s a slasher at heart and wants to get to the rim. That adds an element to our game — not a lot of players can get all the way to the basket. She’s just attacking the rim and can get people in foul trouble.
“And she can play many positions. She’s listed at [5-6], but she will go and post up if I ask her to. She will be the point guard if I ask her to. She’ll run the two, she’ll run the three — she’ll do whatever needs to be done to get on the floor.”
Junior guard Crystal Petrus (5.0 points) will factor in at shooting guard for SU.
The Hornets will also look to 5-10 sophomore forward Holly Chittenden to make an even bigger impact than she did last year, when she started all 26 games and averaged 6.8 points and 6.7 rebounds.
“Not only is she solid on the boards, but she’s probably one of the players in the best shape on the team this year,” Calhoun said.
For the Hornets — who were picked to finish 10th in the 12-team ODAC — the schedule outside the conference won’t be an easy one. The Hornets’ first five games are on the road, with the fourth game in the stretch against Mary Washington (advanced to the NCAA Division III Elite Eight last year) and the fifth against Lebanon Valley (D-III Sweet Sixteen last year).
But from the sound of it, Calhoun doesn’t think her players will be the least bit fazed by any obstacle that’s put in front of them this year.
“They have a lot of expectations that I haven’t even demanded of them,” Calhoun said. “They want to win. They want to be competitive. They don’t want to settle for just going out there and playing.
“This team is made up of basketball players, and we will be competing this year. The ODAC is a competitive conference, but I think we can make some noise.”
— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow on Twitter @WinStarSports1