After a surprising run to the NCAA Sweet 16 last season, the women’s basketball team looks for another strong season and its third-straight State University of New York Athletic Conference (SUNYAC) title during the 2017-18 campaign.
“We had a very successful season last year,” said third-year guard Lindsay Bettke, who averaged 11.9 points per game last season. “However, we all engraved in our brains that the past is the past and that we aren’t guaranteed anything. With that being said, this season we go into each practice with full effort and focus so we can improve every day and become the best team that we can be.”
Outside of the three fourth-years who will not be back this season, the Hawks bolstered a very young roster in 2016-17. That will again be the case this season, as there are no fourth-years and just three third-years on the team this year.
The last time the Hawks featured no fourth-years on their roster was the 2010-11 season. That year, the team made it all the way to the semifinal round of the SUNYAC Tournament, losing to SUNY Oneonta, but were favored to win it all, according to Hawks head coach Jamie Seward.
“Oneonta had four seniors and we had none,” he said. “They had a sense of urgency that comes with being a senior and we did not.”
However, Seward does not believe that will be the case for this season. Over the summer, the Hawks played three games down in Trinidad and Tobago, and Seward saw his team play with a different kind of urgency.
“They had a sense of urgency to be the best,” he said. “They also played with a high level of intensity and those traits are more important to have than being a senior.”
Due to the youth of the team, five different players, including three second-years, will split captain duties.
“We’re asking some of our sophomores to step up big time,” Seward said. “And since our captains are so young, they are still learning how to be the best leaders they can be. But they still have done a very good job thus far.”
Second-year guard Sandi Harris believes the lack of seniors can actually be a strength for the team.
“Having no seniors means that there’s nowhere to hide,” she said. “We all, including the freshmen, have to be completely involved and invested and present both physically and mentally. Having no seniors really forces us to step up to the plate and will give us space to grow together.”
Six newcomers will join the team this season, including third-year guard Rachel Simon who transferred from Div. II Caldwell University and first-year forward Demi Herasme who is also a member of the women’s volleyball team.
“I am impressed with our newcomers,” Bettke said. “They have all shown that they want to be out on the court and that they want to put their best efforts towards bettering our team. Each of the newcomers have embraced the roles the coaches have given them so far, and I can’t wait to see what kind of players they will grow into throughout the season.”
One challenge New Paltz will face this season is the end of their schedule, as the Hawks will conclude the regular season with six road matches against conference opponents. This includes a trip to SUNY Geneseo, who New Paltz has beaten in the past two SUNYAC Championship games. Even still, the Knights went 28-2 last season and were the No. 1 seed in the conference and will likely be a force to be reckoned with again this season.
“When the schedule came out, we tried to figure out how we can view it as a positive,” Seward said. “But now with the season starting, we’ve accepted that it’s going to be really challenging. It’s either going to toughen us up or break us down. We’re going to have to deal with all of the adversity that comes with traveling, and if we can’t handle it then that’s going to be the final narrative of our season. But if we can be tougher than that challenge, that will be the story of our season.”
Despite the youth of the team and the inconvenient schedule, Seward sees a lot of promise in his team and believes everyone can contribute to any success they have this season.
“I think our biggest strength will be our versatility,” he said. “We have the unique ability to defend the perimeter. But we can also play a very guard oriented lineup. We have a lot of flexibility when putting lineups together. It gives us a lot of options and that allows us to have more ways to win than the other team. I’m just trying to figure out how to utilize it in the best possible way.”
Despite all of the success the team had last season, Harris believes the team can be even better and go even further this year.
“Honestly, we don’t want to do the same as last year; we want to do better,” she said. “We always want to push our potential. So, we have to make sure everyone steps up and brings tons of energy every day to practice and transfer what we learn over to games.”