Jarell Matthews (No.11, above) during a game last season. Matthews led the team with 20 points in a victory against Hofstra on Tuesday, Nov. 13. ARACELY JIMENEZ/STATESMAN FILE

The Stony Brook women’s basketball team looks to build off an improved 2017-18 season backed by strong senior leadership.

Senior guards Shania “Shorty” Johnson and Jerell Matthews will set the bar for the team’s success based off their consistent shooting. The dynamic duo’s strong chemistry contributed to them leading the team in points last season. The guards wasted no time picking up where they left off, with Matthews leading with 20 points and Johnson with 10 assists in their 77-49 victory over Hofstra on Tuesday, Nov. 13.

“This is Matthews’ fourth year in the program and Shorty’s second,” head coach Caroline McCombs said. “There has been so much growth from Shorty — we are both on the same page and thinking of running the same plays. Being her fourth year, I think Jerell has been an example for everyone on the team that did not have an opportunity to play at an early age.”

The two will act as floor generals heading the offensive game plan, focusing on connecting 3-point shots. Johnson set a team record last season connecting on 95 3-point shots while Matthews knocked down 63. The duo has already scored 62 percent of the team’s points in the first two games.

While the guards have been established, the starting roles at the forward positions are still up for grabs. Juniors Kyra Dixon, Kina Smith and Oksana Gouchie-Provencher all played coming off the bench last season, but were overshadowed by sophomores India Pagan and Hailey Zeise.

“What I like with our team now is the diversity we had at the forward position,” McCombs said. “We can go small or big, we have different players that have different strengths. I think matching up with the other team is important but we are understanding what we are really good at.”

That diversity will contribute to a mixture of playstyles Stony Brook can utilize this season.

A void that the Seawolves have had to make up for is the absence of junior guard Giolibeth Perez. Her season ended in Vermont after only 17 games last year due to a leg injury and she spent the second half of the season on crutches. While she regained the ability to walk on her own volition, Perez has yet to be cleared for play with no expected timetable to return.

One way the team has strengthened the position is through its three new recruits, all of whom play the guard position. Freshmen Courtney Furr, Laniya Miller and Anastasia Warren joined Stony Brook over the offseason, each participating in at least one game so far this season. Warren has started to establish herself as a prominent figure coming off the bench, finishing with 16 points in the victory over Hofstra.

“Annie was really able to come off the bench for us and make an immediate impact on the court for us,” McCombs said. “We were kind of using her at the one and the two spot, helping her build confidence as a point guard. All that stuff is coming from practice and I think Shorty is taking her under her wing and mentoring.”  

The Seawolves concluded last season on a five-game win streak and an 18-13 overall record, going 10-6 in the America East Conference. Stony Brook was sent home by the New Hampshire Wildcats in the first round for the second straight year, losing 71-54. The Seawolves were selected to finish second alongside Hartford in the America East Coaches’ Preseason Poll, trailing Maine by only nine votes.

“We are on people’s radars now,” McCombs said. “That is what we have to understand now — there is no surprises or secrets. We got to face that competition now.”