Focusing on high energy play and team defense, the Red looks to get the 2015-16 season started in the right direction. The Cornell women’s basketball team hits the road this weekend to open up its season with a pair of games against Hartford (0-0, 0-0 America East) and Bryant (0-0, 0-0 NEC).
On Friday evening, Cornell will face a similar situation to the first contest of the 2014-2015 season. Last year, the Red fell to the Hartford Hawks on opening night by only a margin of two points.
“This team remembers the game last year,” said head coach Dayna Smith. “It was a terrific game here versus. Hartford, losing with seconds to go. But having that experience of knowing what Hartford did, who they were and what their philosophies are, that kind of helps us out.”
The Red will then play Sunday against Bryant University, whom Cornell played last year as well. Last year’s battle also ended with a difference of two points in the final score, with Cornell coming out on top.
Nevertheless, Hartford and Bryant both faced a different Cornell team last year — a less experienced and less mature squad.
The Red returns this year with four of its five starters. The returning starting lineup consists of juniors Nia Marshall and Nicole Aston in the frontcourt and junior captains Megan LeDuc and Kerri Moran in the backcourt.
“It does not automatically win you games, but it’s important,” Smith said. “There’s a comfort level with each other. They have gone through so many games together; they know how to communicate with one another.”
The players said they seem to share their coach’s sentiment.
“It means a lot to us to have four starters back,” LeDuc said. “We were a very young team last year and gained a lot of experience and with that experience we know we can accomplish our goals as a team.”
The players believe they are already a lot farther along in the process than they were last year, even though the season has not started.
“I think having four starters back is really helping us focus on other aspects of our game that we need to improve on as opposed to starting from square one,” Moran said.
In terms of improvement, Cornell looks to work on keeping up the tempo and energy of play for the entirety of their games against Hartford and Bryant.
“One of our biggest things we are focusing on is energy throughout the entire game,” Moran said. “Last year we struggled to start out games with energy, but I think thus far we have been doing a great job maintaining a high level of energy and intensity.”
Moran’s co-captain LeDuc noted how the squad wants use its speed and endurance to play that style of basketball.
Coach Smith has been instilling this approach in her players.
“We always love to play up-tempo,” Smith said. “We like to push the ball.”
Hartford and Bryant offer versatile offenses that the Red will need to lock down. The teams like to play up-tempo, like Cornell, and have a number of veteran players. However, since the Red faced both the Hawks and Bulldogs last year, there should be less surprised with the preparation done in practice this week.
“They run unique offenses,” Smith said. “Hartford has a nice combination of guards and forwards, they have guards that can shoot the three.” Smith also commented on Hartford’s pair of forwards, Darby Lee and Alyssa Reaves, who had success penetrating the Red’s defense in last year’s meeting.
Cornell did see one of its starters from last year graduate with Christine Kline ‘15, who was a critical piece of the Red’s defense.
Kline was “the leader of our defense and was there to clean up our mistakes,” according to Moran.
Smith has urged the team to focus on relying on one another and working dynamically, specifically on defense.
“We would like to play team basketball,” Smith said. “We like to press. But when we are playing zone or man it is all predicated on team play.”