SU basketball teams look to build off recent success

BY DIAMOND HOLTON

Staff Writer

As fall sports come to an end at SU, the Salisbury University basketball teams will kick off the winter season.

Both the men and women’s teams had historic seasons last year; each won their conference championship and advanced deep into the NCAA tournament. Even though the new season is quickly approaching, fans do begin to wonder if the past can become a better present.

On the women’s side, head coach Kelly Lewandowski and her team finished last season with a 28-3 overall record and advanced to the Elite Eight of the national tournament marking the furthest any team has gone in program history. The Gulls dominated in their conference play accumulating 17 CAC wins in the regular season; the most in league history, while collecting their first league title in 13 years.

They also broke six single-season program records including: most victories (28), best winning percentage (.903), most games played (31), most points scored (2,161), most three-point field goals made (145) and attempted shots (481).

The men’s team, under former head coach Josh Merkel, also had a successful year last season, as they finished 21-8 and 14-4 in the CAC winning their second CAC title in program history, advancing them to the NCAA tournament second round. It was the team’s most successful season since 1996-97.

Since their tournament run ended, there have been some modifications and losses on both rosters, which will bring change and new players into different roles.

Men’s head coach Josh Merkel resigned in the spring to take over the head coaching position at Randolph-Macon College; a program he had been an assistant coach at in 2011. Merkel recorded a .617 winning percentage at SU with a 66-41 overall record, including a 37-25 clip in Capital Athletic Conference play.

Over the summer, Salisbury named Andrew Sachs, a Salisbury alumnus, the new head coach. Sachs comes from a six-year stint at Bethany College in West Virginia where he led the Bison to a 117-49 record and two NCAA tournament berths.

“I’m really excited about being here, and I’m excited about coaching these guys,” Sachs said. “We’ve had a great preseason so far and we’ve had some injuries that we’re going to have to overcome, obviously. The work ethic has been great and they’re great kids and we’re looking to build on their success from last year.”

Looking at the roster, the men are already missing some big players from last season. Two seniors graduated this past May: guards Conor Strickland and Nick Sparacino.

The men also lost one of their star players for the season in Wyatt Smith due to a shoulder injury.

In 2014, Smith led his team in points, points per game, rebounds and blocks, but Sachs said he’s glad the injury happened early and not during the season.

“We’ve basically practiced without him and I think the team will be fine,” he said. “I think it’ll help them in the long run. I just feel sorry for the seniors that are here right now that won’t get a chance to play with Wyatt next year, but it’s just an opportunity for other guys to step up and play. They won’t be dependent on one guy.”

The team has added three freshmen and two transfers to fill the gaps in their roster. Freshmen Chad Strouthers, Jack Ferguson and Chase Kumor join the maroon and gold, followed by sophomores Chad Barcikowski who played at York College and Brian Coleman who comes from Catholic University.

Upon those returning, there are five seniors, two sophomores and two juniors. Setting the tone are guards Rocky Harris, Adrien Straughn, Justin May, Justin Witmer, Jordan Brooks, and Connor Lulay, forwards Kyle Savercool and Gordon Jeter, with Jacoy Gillum taking over at center.

Jeter returns from last season averaging eight points-a-game, shooting 54.9 percent from the field. He feels his team is ready and excited for the season. “I think early on we were still looking into the past a little bit, but Sachs came along and changed the atmosphere,” Jeter said. “He made us realize that the past is in the past and we have to move forward while making changes and keep getting better as a unit.” The Sea Gulls have a tough schedule ahead of them in the regular season with only nine home games and 16 games on the road, while also playing in three different tournaments not including the CAC tournament. The season begins on Nov. 13, with the first home game on Nov. 24.

The tough road to begin the season will surely give Sachs and his team a chance to see what their team is really made of.

The women come into the season after losing six seniors to graduation; five of which were starters last season. One is starting guard and playmaker Anna Hackett who is the second leading scorer in program history with 1,802 points and third in assists with 515 points.

She started all four years for SU, taking the court 111 times for an average of 34.2 minutes each game. Shooting 46 percent from the field through her four years, and averaging 16.2 points per game.

With her 1,802 career points, she is ninth all-time in Division III, and ranks seventh in assists.

Other notable losses include Sarah Seipp who averaged 15.6 points per game, Alexis Perno, Melanie Mocniak, Courtney McManus and Aleisha Hobbs.

Salisbury also lost juniors Kathy Albornoz and Karly Oristian who played in several big games last year.

All eight had a big hand in Salisbury’s success last season, giving Lewandowski a big challenge in replacing all of them.

The team will have eight players return from last season while also adding on nine new players; six freshmen and three transfers.

Among those returning are junior Lauren Rothfeld, seniors Julia McLaughlin and Theano Alvanos, and sophomores Morgan Grubb, Mary McDonagh, Chrissy Ribaudo, Paige Bryce and Josephine Noonan.

Lewandowski feels it’s an adjustment losing a big part of their experienced players. Going into the season, Rothfeld and McLaughlin are the only two that returned who saw major minutes last year, but she feels the chemistry between the returners and the new players is good based off practices and scrimmages.

“We have a lot of new people, but they have gelled really well so far and they’re working together encouraging one another,” Lewandowski said. “I think they are really committed.”

The new players that have come in have shown Lewandowski how diverse they all are with their strengths and weaknesses in different areas. Two freshmen have stood out in her eyes so far: Megan Konig and Kaylyn French.

Konig has shown strength in her athleticism, while French has not only shown good athleticism, but she’s also challenging people in the post. As for the transfers, Dee Terry, who transferred from Gwynedd Mercy has really come from being Rookie of the Year in her past conference to having tremendous speed that will make up for the loss of Seipp.

The main experience will come from returning senior McLaughlin who was an All-Conference player last year. Her teammates believe she displays great leadership on the court and is very stoic.

Rebuilding is not something the women’s team typically likes to hear. The main goal is focusing on the chemistry and using the talent especially off the bench to fit the pieces together and help the players find their roles that were missing from last year’s squad.

The schedule consists of 11 home games out of the 25 total, playing in two tournaments; one at home and the other in Orlando, Florida. Their biggest test in Orlando will be facing Amherst who has been ranked No. 2 in the preseason by D3hoops.com.

The team kicks off its season with an away game against Virginia Wesleyan before playing in the Optimist Tournament at Maggs Physical Activities Center.

Lewandowski has hope for this season in terms of the conference because she knows not a lot of teams are returning a huge amount of players. She’s eager to see who rises to the top throughout the season and in their conference.

Both the men’s and women’s team will have a lot to do if they wish to build off their success from last season, but with the proven leadership and skilled players both squads have, 2015-16 may be a season to remember.

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