As the fall season comes to a close, the AWC is full of athletes once again with the start of the winter season. Men’s and women’s basketball are both back in action and the teams are looking to accomplish great things this season including securing the SUNYAC championship title.
Last year, both teams saw success in their regular seasons. The men’s team ended 13-14 overall while going 10-8 in conference play. They were seeded fifth in the SUNYAC tournament and beat out Oneonta to go on to the SUNYAC semifinals, where they unfortunately fell to nationally ranked Oswego, the team who ultimately brought home the conference chip.
The women’s team concluded their last campaign with a remarkable record of 24-5 overall and being undefeated in conference play, 18-0. They beat out Geneseo in the SUNYAC semifinals by an almost 20-point deficit, but came up short in the SUNYAC championship match, losing to the Cortland Red Dragons 57-52. From their success in the regular season, however, the Hawks punched their ticket into the NCAA tournament. They beat Gettysburg College in the first round but were defeated by No. 13 ranked Babson College in the second.
Both the women’s and men’s teams have veteran rosters, with little to no newcomers — the men’s team adds no freshmen to the lineup, while the women’s roster only holds one newcomer.
The men’s team returns key players such as graduate student guard Ryan Blondo, who received second-team All-SUNYAC honors and led the team in scoring with 427 points for the season. He is joined on the court by brotherly duo Sean and Ethan St. Lucia, who look to make an impact on the court this season, as Sean has acted as the team’s leader as guard from up top and Ethan comes in as a transfer from Geneseo to join his brother on the court. Tyreik Frazier also makes his return in the paint for his final season. Last year he led the team in blocks, totaling a remarkable 49 for the season.
Coach Keith Kenney returns for his 20th year at SUNY New Paltz, and his sixth campaign with the men’s basketball program. This year, he is depending on his returning players, but also is bringing in four transfer players to fill spots on the team and hopefully make an impact on the scoresheets. The transfers include Ethan St. Lucia, A.J Knight from Fredonia State, Kobe Bogart from Cazenovia College and Diamonte McMillan from Rockland Community College.
The team lost two key players since last season, Isaiah Bien-Aise and Brandon Scott, who played integral roles in the teams starting five last season. But between the experienced players and incoming transfer students, the squad should have no problem picking up from where they left off.
The women’s lineup consists of many seasoned veterans and very successful ones. They are led by fourth-year guard/forward Brianna Fitzgerald, who last season was named SUNYAC Player of the Year and also accumulated All-American WBCA Honorable Mention, All-American D3 Hoops Third Team and Division III All-East First Team for Region III honors. This season, she is projected to be All-American once again, this time on the second team. She knows as well as anyone how the team’s gameplay will be changing this season. Coach Jamie Seward is back for his 17th campaign with the Hawks. He has created a winning mentality in the program his last few years with the university, and it won’t be a surprise if that continues into this season.
“Considering we lost six very valuable players, we really needed everyone to step up to fill in those shoes,” Fitzgerald said. “Since personnel is so different, we’ve been focusing on transitioning our defense to better support the strengths of our players this year.”
The Hawks return starters senior forward Abby Korzekwinski and senior guard Jenny Walton, who were essential pieces in the teams’ successful campaign last season. Korzekwinski was a big defensive piece as she accumulated 11 blocks and 137 rebounds throughout the season. Walton was a key offensive player in the lineup, coming second to Fitzgerald in total points, with 283. Also returning on the court is senior forward Madison Mullman, graduate student forward Gabby Palladino, senior guard Julia Sabatino, junior guard Morgan Hammell, senior guard/forward Erin Cooney and senior forward Semaiah Williams. They add sole freshman guard/forward Hannah Vanderzee, who should play a big part in the Hawks campaign this year.
Having a small roster, competition is high in practice, with players fighting for minutes on the court within a small pool of individuals. “With so many players graduating, there are so many minutes that need to be filled and we’re all grinding and fighting everyday to try and get on the court,” noted Fitzgerald. “This day in and day out aggressive and competitive drive makes our team atmosphere extremely fun to be apart of. This team is extremely motivated and excited to get started and I’m so proud to be apart of a group like this.”
Last year, the Hawks came up short in the SUNYAC championship, but they have goals to take home the title this time around. “I have really high hopes for this team as I am excited to see us finish what we started last year,” Fitzgerald answered. “We are looking for another SUNYAC championship title as well as looking to make waves in the NCAA tournament. I believe this team has the willingness and drive to do what it takes to make it all the way, and I can’t wait to get started.”
The women begin their season with competitions against Union College, Vassar and Mount Saint Mary’s College, while the men will play Skidmore College, United States Merchant Marine Academy and Bard College. You can catch them in action this season as they both work towards a SUNYAC championship.