BY CHARLES MILLER
At the conclusion of the 2015 season, the Salisbury women’s basketball team dealt with the loss of six seniors who played pivotal roles in the program winning the CAC championship and advancing to the Elite Eight for the first time in history.
With that much talent leaving, some may have never expected this the 2016 squad to show any signs of success the following season.
“It was hard because we didn’t really know what are expectations were going to be considering we lost so much,” Sea Gulls head coach Kelly Lewandowski said.
However, with a team filled with young talent, the Sea Gulls were determined to prove doubters wrong and show they still had the capability to win big games.
Along with senior leader Julia McLaughlin, and junior guard Lauren Rothfeld, three young players with great talent and potential stepped up to the task determined to return to playoff form.
Sophomores Josephine Noonan and Mary McDonagh, as well as freshman Kaylyn French have come in and contributed all season. All three bring a different element and skill to the court, but all three have their eyes set on one goal: winning.
Noonan is a dominant player around the rim with her six-foot-two stature and has the ability to rebound on both offense and defense. Her height creates mismatches that make it difficult to take an accurate shot when matched up against her.
French, a versatile player who can play as a forward or guard, has plenty of room for growth. She goes on to create opportunities for others to score due to her unselfish nature.
After using half the season to learn and perfect Lewandowski’s offense, French made her way into the starting lineup at the beginning of 2016. As a freshman, French believes every minute is a minute well-spent earning valuable time on the court.
McDonagh is a threat with the three ball and regularly connects early and often if left open. She can score from anywhere on the floor, always a problem for opposing defensives.
Salisbury has struggled hitting shots from outside the arc this season, but the emergence of McDonagh gives the Gulls an option beyond the arc, in case opposing defenses shut down the paint.
“She is one of the key options, on offense when it comes to scoring,” Lewandoski said while discussing McDonagh’s style of play.
Each player provides, regardless if they are starting or coming off the bench can put up multiple points that have helped lead the Gulls to several victories.
Even though the team has not had the same success they had in 2015, the Sea Gulls have relied on opportunities to learn and ways their team as a whole can improve. Salisbury currently holds the fifth seed in the Capital Athletic Conference with a good chance to make the tournament and defend their title.
Lewandowski has called on her young players in many games this season, but one game stood out in the fifth year coach’s eye.
Coming off a four-game losing streak, Salisbury faced Wesley College and with strong play from Noonan, McDonagh and French were able to capture the 76-64 win.
“It was an exciting game because it was a must win, and I think they handled it really well,” Lewandowski said.
SU Athletics Photos: Upper: Mary McDonagh leads SU in 3-point percentage with .367.
Left: Kaylyn French averages 5.3 points per game and 5 rebounds per game
McDonagh scored 21points with seven assists while going 7-11 from the field and 4-7 behind the arc.
Even with 11 wins already this season, the Gulls believe they are better than their record states. Two overtime losses against York and Marymount were close games until the end, and Salisbury almost completed a fourth quarter comeback against No. 24 in the nation, Christopher Newport. The losses have hurt, but have also made the team stronger.
“I am proud of what they have done, we are facing really tough competition,” Lewandoski said. “Taking York and Marymount into overtime showed our team we can play with anyone.”
Not only have the younger players learned to execute their skills, but they now understand the benefits and lessons that come with playing any college basketball game; win or lose.
“There are peaks and valleys, and with every game comes a learning experience for us and the fact that we are so new and we have hung in there with very good teams is great,” McDonagh said.
With the season coming to a close, Noonan, McDonagh, French and the rest of the women’s basketball team will look to win out and secure a spot in the playoffs.
If Salisbury is to repeat as CAC champions and reenter the NCAA tournament, they will have to rely on their youth, and hope the lessons they have learned this season are enough to help them accomplish their goals.