Stony Brook Women’s Basketball’s 2016-17 season ended with a 58-49 loss to No. 1-seeded New Hampshire in the opening round of the America East Tournament. For better or worse, this year’s squad can expect almost nothing for sure except a great deal of change.
If the Seawolves want to surpass last season’s 12-18 overall record, they will have to do so with an almost entirely new set of players leading the way. Six players from last year’s squad have either graduated or transferred, including each of the team’s top four scorers and five out of six of the team’s top rebounders from last season.
Stony Brook will rely on new arrivals to replace the loss of veteran production. Eight of the team’s 14 roster spots this season are held by student-athletes who have never played for the team before, including five freshmen, two transfers and one redshirt freshman.
While head coach Caroline McCombs said she has seen growth from her squad in the preseason, she also acknowledged that this year will be a learning process for the whole team.
“We’re going to throw some of them out there and see how they do,” McCombs said. “I think teaching is an emphasis for us this year because of being so young… So I think there will be a mix of some veterans and some newcomers. They’ve been competing all preseason for those positions and roles are starting to be defined now, and we’re just continuing to be better.”
Stony Brook started junior guards Jerell Matthews and Shania Johnson, senior guard Aaliyah Worley, freshman forward India Pagan and redshirt-freshman forward Oksana Gouchie-Provencher in Monday night’s 79-63 exhibition win at home against Adelphi. While the starting five earned the preseason victory, the team has not confirmed that this will be their starting lineup for the regular season opener against Manhattan on Saturday.
Matthews scored a team-high 22 points on 72 percent shooting in 29 minutes on the court in the game. Although she has averaged less than 10 minutes per game in her two seasons at Stony Brook, her coach expects a big boost in her production this year.
“She’s gone through a process of two years through our program,” McCombs said. “Just having an opportunity this year to step on the court, and we expect her to be able to come in and be a veteran guard for us.”
Johnson, a third-year transfer student from Monroe College, is one of two transfer students, along with junior forward Cheyenne Clark, looking to make a mark on the hardwood. Johnson joins the Seawolves a year after leading the Mustangs to a 21-7 record and a berth in the NJCAA Division I tournament. She led her team in assists with 4.9 per game, and her 21.2 points per game made her the fifth-most prolific scorer in Division I.
Clark did not start against Adelphi, but she enters Stony Brook with an impressive pedigree for a transfer student. Coming in from Mohawk Valley Community College, Clark led the NJCAA Division III with 17.9 rebounds per game last season, while scoring an average of 19.0 points per game in 28.3 minutes per game. Clark scored more than 20 points in each of 14 games last season, including a 41-point performance against Cayuga Community College in 2016.
McCombs is hoping Clark, along with Gouchie-Provencher, can help revitalize Stony Brook’s frontcourt with their unique styles of play.
“That four spot really, with Oxi, is different than Cheyenne,” McCombs said. “Oxi is more of a stretch-four for us, can shoot the three. She’s been in the program for a year. And Cheyenne is a defender and a rebounder… she brings a ton of energy to the team.”
Worley is the lone starter returning from the 2016-17 campaign, in which she averaged 4.8 points and 4.8 rebounds in 24.5 minutes per game playing outside her natural position of wing player. As the only senior and the most experienced player on the roster, Worley has found herself thrust into the driver’s seat as a leader for her younger teammates.
“We don’t have captains right now,” McCombs said. “We have Aaliyah as our senior, and she’s kind of been the spokesperson for us to this point in time… It’s a big role for her to fill. We communicate daily about leadership, what that looks like, and how she can continue to help our team grow and develop.”
For Worley, her role as a leader only gets more important when she and her teammates are off the court.
“I feel like my biggest role as far as being a leader is teaching the younger ones,” Worley said. “My teammates are like my younger sisters, so I just always want to make sure they’re on track off the court as well with academics. Just making sure they’re always ok, just making sure that anything they need, I have them. Basically just being that one person they can always depend on.”
With the Seawolves’ three-month, 30-game long trek through the regular season getting underway, McCombs has one message she wants her team to take to heart: trust in the process and take the season one day at a time.
“We focus on the process, and we’ve really been working on what that process looks like for our team,” McCombs said. “What is success is doing our very best every day, trying to get better.”