(BASIL JOHN / THE STATESMAN)
When Beth O’Boyle left Stony Brook for a position as head coach for women’s basketball at Virginia Commonwealth, Caroline McCombs took over for the Seawolves. (BASIL JOHN / THE STATESMAN)

It would have been a Cinderella Story. The Stony Brook women’s basketball team, under former head coach Beth O’Boyle, had made a turnaround that people would read about in books.

Four to 14 to 24. Those are the number of wins the Seawolves have had over the last three seasons at Stony Brook.

It would have been fitting if last season had ended in a 25th on the biggest stage of them all. In the America East Championship finals, the Seawolves confronted the Albany Great Danes on their home court, looking to put a bow on a present of a season to
Seawolves fans.

Just nine days prior, Stony Brook ended Albany’s 38-game America East winning streak in New York’s capital, giving Seawolves fans hope they had a realistic chance to reach the NCAA Tournament. Within minutes, the Great Danes silenced that hope, getting out to an early lead they would never let go of, ending Stony Brook’s season and the tenure of O’Boyle.

As the coach credited with the top turnaround in the nation left Long Island to become head coach at Virginia Commonwealth, there were more questions to answer other than whether or not the Seawolves would be able to put themselves in a position to win a conference title once again.

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Over the summer, new Director of Athletics Shawn Heilbron had a big task in selecting a women’s basketball coach. He hired Caroline McCombs, who most recently has served on Auburn’s staff after spending time at Northwestern and Pittsburgh. With 11 total appearances in the NCAA or WNIT tournaments under her belt, it is fair to say that Heilbron was looking for experience.

McCombs brings an attitude that will give Seawolves fans positive vibes right away. Fans will hope the combination of experience on the roster and experience on the coaching staff will lead to even bigger and better things on top of last season, which was statistically the best in program history.

Yes, Stony Brook lost a key cog to their machine in Chikilra Goodman, who was not only on the first-team All Conference, but the America East Defensive Player of the Year. What Seawolves followers need to think about is how much they still have left, and the room it leaves for growth.

At the point guard position, one feisty player on the defensive end in Goodman will likely be replaced by an equally tenacious one on the offensive end. Sophomore Kori Bayne-Walker earned a reputation as a bulldog last season.

“She [Bayne-Walker] was fortunate to play under a good point guard last year and I think she was able to see some things from the bench and come in and add her game into the system,” McCombs said. “She’s going to have the ball in her hands a lot this year.”

The stalling of the Seawolves offense would call for one thing, and that was Bayne-Walker. Whenever any rhythm was lost, she would bring the ball up the floor, and drive it right into the heart of opposing defenses. Her court presence may or may not be able to match that of Goodman’s, but her determination will be a big factor in how smoothly both sides of the floor run this upcoming season.

According to McCombs, the team will look to get up and down the floor throughout the season, which will make Bayne-Walker’s development a key.

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It will be interesting to see which of the three freshmen will figure into McCombs and her staff’s plans the most this season, as much of the rotation remains, with only Teasha Harris graduating with Goodman.

Kacie Juday, a guard from Tipton, Ind., looks to be someone who can make an immediate impact for Stony Brook. She accounted for 427 steals in her high school career, ranking fifth all-time in the state of Indiana.

Looking ahead at this season’s schedule, after a lopsided defeat in last year’s WNIT to Michigan, the Seawolves get to head to North Carolina for a huge opportunity against 21-time NCAA qualifier Duke. When Stony Brook travels to Durham, N.C. on Nov. 28, they will see what it is like to compete at the top level of the NCAA, and more importantly, give themselves a chance to boost their confidence for the rest of the year by competing well.

As the Seawolves near 2015, they will have their last warm-ups for conference play when they host the Seawolves Holiday Classic on Dec. 28 and 29, playing games against Western Michigan and Norfolk State. Just days later, the most important and vital part of the season begins. However, the Seawolves will not get ahead of themselves.

“We’re just looking at short term goals and treating every game the same,” McCombs said.

The new year rings in America East play, with the first of 16 crucial games which will not only decide where the Seawolves stand in the conference, but how difficult their road to the America East Championship finals will be. Last year, the Seawolves lost a mere three games during their conference slate, earning the No. 2 seed in the tournament. This allowed them to stay away from their biggest rival and toughest threat to overcome in pursuit of a NCAA bid: Albany.

After last year’s tough loss against Albany in the America East tournament, things looked grim heading into this season, with every key piece to the Great Danes puzzle returning. However, center Megan Craig, known for towering above everybody on the court and attempting to bully opponents around with her physical play, will not be returning after graduating early. That could be the hole that preseason All-America East first team selection, senior Sabre Proctor, will look to expose, as she can both power her way inside and drag whoever is guarding her outside, where she has a very deft touch on her jump shot.

“Every year is a new team,” McCombs said, and it will be this new team that looks to take another shot at Stony Brook history by earning an NCAA bid.

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