by Amy Moritz
With only a few weeks until the start of the college basketball season, the Big 4 held its second annual media day at First Niagara Center.
On the women's side, expectations are high for the University at Buffalo, Niagara is moving to a new tempo of play, Canisius is looking for its seniors to step up and St. Bonaventure hopes to grow the experience of its sophomore class.
Highlights from the day's interview sessions:
University at Buffalo: Last year at this time, coach Felisha Legette-Jack was happy she had learned the names of her players. And last year at this time, those players were trying to figure out the craziness of their passionate new head coach.
After a year together which included a win over Miami (Ohio) in the Mid-American Conference tournament and a near upset of Akron, the Bulls are experienced and poised to make a run in the MAC. Among the leaders will be sophomore Mackenzie Loesing, who was named the Preseason Big 4 Player of the Year.
"She's relaxed a little more," Legette-Jack said. "She's working hard at trying to get better, trying to understand the system a little bit more but it's not nerve-wracking. She's not wondering, 'Where is coach coming from?' She's really in a great place. I think they all are.
"Last year, we played every game like it was our first kiss. We were like WOW. This year they’ve already been through it. They already understand the trenches. They already understand their crazy coach. They already know the passion that’s necessary for us to make our team relevant. That kind of nervousness isn’t going to be part of our game plan anymore."
Niagara: Get ready to swivel your head when watching a Purple Eagles' game this season. Coach Kendra Faustin said her team is changing styles to take advantage of the newly added 10-second backcourt violation in the women's game. Niagara is moving to a more uptempo game with more full-court pressing and less structure in the half-court offensive set.
Playing a key role in that change will be junior guard Meghan McGuinness. She averaged 9.6 points last year but 11.3 in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference games as she settled into her confidence later in the season. Faustin sees a change in McGuinness, a readiness to start the season mentally strong.
"Always works hard. Always has a great summer. Always in shape," Faustin said of McGuinness. "I think she’s learned a lot over the last two years. Her freshman year she didn’t play very much early. She got herself together mentally and performed really well at the end of the season. Same thing last year. She was not approaching the game in the right way mentally. She was worried about her playing time, worried about the points she was supposed to score, and really struggled until the end of the year. I think she’s ready to make that change and come at it from the beginning of the year."
Canisius: The Golden Griffins have fielded plenty of talent in recent years, but their record hasn't reflected that fact. Coach Terry Zeh challenged his senior class, which hasn't reached .500 overall or in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, to change that legacy.
The sense of urgency is high with seniors Jen Morabito, Jamie Ruttle and Jen Lennox along with Courtney VandeBovenkamp, a member of that class but a redshirt junior after missing last season with a knee injury.
"We sat down at the end of last year and I said when we recruited you, we thought this was a pretty good recruiting class," Zeh said. "All of you are great students, great people. You’re community service is through the roof. But yet we haven’t had the success on the court that we would like to have with your group. So you’ve got to make a decision. Do you want to be the group of great girls who are really good students and good people and that’s what you graduate with or do you want to make a difference on the court? And they were very confident they wanted to make a difference."
St. Bonaventure: The Bonnies are coming off a difficult season where upperclassmen leadership was lacking, resulting in releasing Doris Ortega and CeCe Dixon from the program, and where a talented freshman class had to find a way to play together, quickly.
The Bonnies are still looking to accelerate the learning process for its sophomore class and while they may take some lumps again this season, are looking to take another step forward. Senior Chelsea Bowker returns after redshirting last season with an ankle injury. The forward is seventh on the school's career three-point list with 146.
Expectations are also high for sophomore forward Katie Healy (Lancaster) who started in 16 of the 29 games she played, averaging 8.6 points and 5.6 rebounds a game.
"Katie had a terrific summer," Bona coach Jim Crowley said. "She could be one of the best players we’ve had in our program and you’re not supposed to say that. She’s struggling with that expectation at times. When she just kind of goes and lets her competitiveness take over and lets her skill take over, she can do a lot of things. ... She’s got a lot of talent. She’s just got to keep growing as a player... She needs to have a big year. We as coaches have to be able to help her handle that. Her teammates have full faith in her and she'll get there."