By Bridget Walsh
After last seasons ending loss to Fairleigh Dickinson- Florham in the conference championship game and an overall record of 20-7, the women’s basketball team is anticipating another successful season under Coach Fred Richter who is entering his 27th season as the Bulldog’s head coach.
“Probably the largest overall goal is for us to get better every day and reach our potential,” said Richter. “I think we’re a talented team with depth, but only hard work makes a difference.”
Some of the greatest advantages for the team this season is that they only lost two players to graduation, brought in a talented freshman class and have five seniors that have been role models and strong leaders for the underclassmen. Senior Morgan McCollian enters the season just three points shy of 1,000 for her career, after receiving a plethora of honors and also averaging nearly a double- double in a remarkable junior year. Sophomore Morgan Birmelin returns having led the team in assists per game and reigns as the longest Bulldog to start all 27 games last season. Along with Birmelin is fellow sophomore Leandra Sterner
who returns having averaged just shy of 10 points per game in limited action last season due to several knee injuries.
“We always try to recruit some talented players, mostly for competitive reasons, but if you’re going to have a strong program, you have to have solid, four-year players,” said Richter “I think we do have a small but awfully talented freshman class and that can help us in the big picture. I think having so many seniors that have been through what we’ve been through in respect to the lows and the highs gives a good perspective to the rest of the young ladies.”
Going into the ’15- ’16 season, the women’s basketball team was ranked second in the conference. Now having the top preseason spot adds to the competitive level of the team from their opponents.
“We’ve always had a target on our back,” Richter said. “I’m not sure if being one or two matters to every team in the league. There are certain teams who haven’t beaten us in a long time, there are others that consider us to be their biggest rival. We have to be ready for every game.”
The women began game-play at Immaculata University on Nov. 15. The first conference game is Jan. 4 in a home doubleheader with the men’s team against Eastern University.
The men’s basketball team has been selected as the conference favorite for the second year in a row after coming off a 20-8 season, a MAC Freedom Conference semifinal loss and a loss in the ECAC championship.
This season’s roster is suffering the loss of just one member to graduation; it also added five skilled freshmen on an 18-player team to complement a dominating senior class. Four of five starters are returning for the Bulldogs, including seniors Kuity Slanger, Brian Laird, Ryan Callahan and Brandon Bridy. Slanger is the returning leader in rebounds, assists, and steals per game. Laird and Slanger were tied for second on the team for scoring last season. Callahan returns as the leading blocker and Bridy started in all 28 games last season.
“We have players on our team who’ve been part of championship teams,” said Coach Scott Coval, who is entering his 24th season as head coach for the Bulldogs. “We [also] have guys who have a lot of experience here and have played in one game in NCAAs. We hope that translates into the proper type of leadership as we move into the actual games. Our younger guys have a lot of energy and talent. It’s a nice blend having them with the upperclassmen.”
As a veteran coach, Coval believes there are many expectations for a team, and it is through the players that goals can be achieved and the destination will be reached. “We don’t say our goals are to win the regular season or conference championship; we do consider that a destination,” said Coval. “The goal is to show up every day with a positive attitude, with a positive energy and try to get better every day. You’re going to make mistakes. There’s always a learning curve. The expectation is that [the players] are ready to show up and compete.”
Having a veteran senior class with important contributors as well as several underclassmen with a significant amount of experience had a large impact on the decision by the head coaches in the MAC Freedom Conference to label the Bulldogs as the favored team this season.
“I think it’s something that we’re used to,” Coval said of the preseason polls results. “What it does is that we become everyone’s biggest game on their schedule in our conference. We know that, we know we’re getting everyone’s best shot and we have to respond accordingly.”
The men began their season at Billera with a matchup against Rosemont College on Nov. 15. Conference play is scheduled for a home doubleheader with the women’s team against Eastern University on Jan. 4.