(JISOO HWANG / THE STATESMAN)
The Women’s Basketball team has a real chance at the conference championship and at entering the NCAA tournament this year. (JISOO HWANG / THE STATESMAN)

The Stony Brook Women’s Basketball team was in the dungeons of the America East Conference just a few years back. A new group of coaches and a set of hard-working players later, and the Seawolves have what may be their best chance ever to make the NCAA tournament.

Entering the America East tournament on Friday afternoon, Stony Brook holds the second seed. They will have three games, starting at noon on Friday. Three wins, and they advance to the national stage, a field of 64 teams consisting of the most elite basketball players in the country. After emerging from the very bottom of the league, there is nothing to indicate that coach Beth O’Boyle’s team does not have a chance of finishing the complete 360.

At the beginning of the season, Stony Brook appeared as if they were on the same level compared to last season, when they entered the conference tournament as the fourth seed. Early wins showed promise and a will to win, but not necessarily the tools to match up with a powerhouse like rival Albany.

A whole lot of basketball later, and that early promise has turned into more than just the possibility of being good, but a reality of being great. Heading into its biggest weekend of the season, Stony Brook brings a strongly coached team with a variety of talent that can match up with anybody in the conference in any way.

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A smart set of ball handlers in senior Chikilra Goodman and sophomore Miranda Jenkins know how to set the tempo of the game, switching things up from a half court game to pushing it down the floor at a moments notice. One thing that nobody could say about the Seawolves is that they make a ton of bad decisions. Once in a blue moon, an errant pass or miscommunication may cause a turnover, but other than that the two starting guards keep things calmly under control.

When energy is needed off the bench, guard Kori Bayne-Walker has proven time and time again that when she gets to the hoop, she is going to finish, and so far nobody has done anything about it. Looking far down the line, if the Seawolves do end up taking on top seed Albany in the finals of the tournament, it will be of the utmost importance to get to the basket to get Albany’s Megan Craig in foul trouble early and often.

Without the space-eating center in the game, Albany is not the same team. As good of a player that forward Shereesha Richards—the probable America East player of the year— is, life is a lot harder when you do not have to focus on fronting and boxing out the biggest player in the America East, who is even taller than Jameel Warney of Stony Brook’s men’s team.

The interior defense is going to be key not just against Albany, but throughout the whole tournament. Game in and game out, forwards Sabre Proctor and Brittany Snow have been fantastic at keeping the front lines down low at bay and helping to clog up the lane when opposing guards look to get to the basket and draw a foul.

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In almost every game this season, Proctor, Snow and the strong-rebounding guards Goodman and Jessica Ogunnorin have led the team to definitively outrebound opponents. Whether it has been on the offensive or defensive glass, the Seawolves have dominated everybody in conference and even most non-conference foes.

In crunch time, when getting off to a good start is of the utmost importance, maintaining the advantage on the boards will be a key. If the Seawolves are not on their game in the rebounding department, something else will have to be spectacular come the semis and finals of the tournament.

They call it “March Madness” for a reason, as so many crazy things can happen. The real test will be to see how Stony Brook will be able to respond if something does go awry.

Although this is a team that is never truly in terrible foul trouble, there is always the possibility that the referees will be calling a tight game up in Albany. If the likes of Alyssa Coiro, Kim Hanlon and Kristie Costantino have to come into the game for significant minutes, it’ll be key to see how they respond in the big moment.

In coach Beth O’Boyle’s first year, her Seawolves won four games. Two short years later, she has the chance to lead the Women’s Basketball team to its first conference championship and NCAA tournament berth in the school’s history.

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