There are some things at the College of Staten Island that get taken for granted and one of them is the level of play for one of its flagship programs: women’s basketball. That’s why when the six-time CUNYAC champs suffered through an 8-17 campaign a year ago it was hardly labeled a rebuilding year, but rather a fall from the lofty graces that have surrounded Head Coach Marguerite Moran and her program for the last 13 years. Thus, 2011-12 will be a test for the team to return to its roots as one of the conference’s finest basketball programs. That journey will start tomorrow night at the Sports & Recreation Center against non-conference Purchase State College at 7:00pm.
“We don’t dwell on the past around here,” said Moran, whose teams boast a 244-120 (.670) record since she took over the reigns in 1998 (the program boasted a 193-201 record in its previous 17 years). “We look at a season like last year and just try to learn together and continue to build. That’s what we will do again this year. We will continue to play tough opponents and hold ourselves to high standards, and we will not apologize for our record as long as we are playing hard and getting better on the court.”
Indeed, from the outset, last year’s Dolphins were in rebuilding form, complete with only one senior and a whopping seven players all making their collegiate debut. CSI got off to a program-worst 0-6 start before leveling to a 6-7 conference mark by the end of the year, one that including a season-ending injury to Olivia Tierno, the team’s second-leading scorer and rebounder at the time. Where the Dolphins a better team at the end of the year than they were at the beginning? Yes, but according to the coaching staff, there was still plenty of room for improvement. So the Dolphins enter 2011-12 with another seven new faces (and three more who expect to be activated by mid-season).
“We are very happy with the recruiting we have done,” said Moran, who will be flanked by assistant coaches Tim Shanahan and Robert Mesjasz this season. “We landed some of the players that we really wanted here and we have good depth this season which is something we haven’t had a lot of recently. Some of our players will help immediately, others will take time to develop, but we truly feel that they can all make a difference down the road.”
Among the new faces are Susan Wagner’s Nikki Fabozzi (Fr., G, 5-9), a fluid scorer who could challenge for an immediate starting spot, and fellow guards Danielle Kartalis (Fr., G, 5-6, Notre Dame Academy) and Christine DeCarlo (Fr., G, 5-6, St. Joseph by the Sea) who could contend for valuable minutes in the backcourt combining strong defensive presence with a nose for the ball and extraordinary hustle. Frontcourt power Deborah Adeoluwa (Fr., F/C, 6-0, Port Richmond) is a project player who Moran feels can develop into one of the conference’s most spectacular players, while Jennifer Coughlan (Fr., F, 5-8, Moore Catholic) is a smart, polished product who will only stand to get better with increased time. Christine DeCarlo (Fr., G, 5-6, St. Joseph by the Sea) and Jacqueline Jamaleddine (Fr., G, 5-3, Tottenville) will provide the depth that Moran hopes will be leaned on more heavily in 2011-12.
The newcomers will be leaned on early, according to Moran, but the coach hopes the framework of seven returners will lay a solid foundation for the new projects coming in. For one, Tierno will be back this season after a pair of knee surgeries jeopardized her basketball career, and she will be flanked by 2009-10 CUNYAC Co-Rookie of the Year Katelyn Hepworth (12.7 ppg., 9.6 rpg.) and backcourt trio Nicole Quattrocchi (Sr., 5.1 ppg., 3.3 rpg.), Jaclyn Tocco (So., 5.0 ppg., 5.1 rpg.) and Rachel Rosado (So., 6.3 ppg., 3.1 rpg.). Victoria Donegan also returns from injuries that KO’ed her from soccer competition while Christina Sgarlato will also provide minutes straight from the soccer pitch.
“We weren’t expecting to have to lean on our youth that much last year but we did. They logged a lot of minutes and you could see the fatigue of what our season can do to newer players. The by-product of that is that they come in conditioned and ready for what to expect, so we hope that translates to good things for us this year,” Moran stated.
Of course, the experience of last year means little if the returners can’t get the new faces acclimated quickly. According to Moran its team chemistry that will dictate how far and how fast the Dolphins can go. CSI will be, after all, still young, boasting another lone senior, next to two juniors, and a total of up to 11 freshmen and sophomores come December.
“It’s going to take time,” she said. “As coaches we want it all to come together right away but realistically we know we will have to be patient. We will have to play above our experience level if we want our win-loss record to greatly improve, but our confidence will grow.”
The coach knows that’s especially true given where the team is coming from, persevering through the tough season a year ago. “Being together through the season we had, staying focused, staying confident, even with players going down to injuries and suffering through some losses, we really came together as a team and at times played well. Now our talent level is improving and we will get better. It’s all about building that chemistry now.”
The coach knows that the chemistry isn’t a recipe to be mixed solely at practice, either. The team will need the crucial game experience against a CUNYAC conference that is only getting better, especially in the South Division, where Brooklyn College and York College have surfaced as quality teams along with Medgar Evers College.
Don’t expect the style to change much, however, as CSI teams under Moran will continue to be high-tempo and aggressive defensively, where the team forced 22 turnovers per game a year ago, one of the best marks in the conference.
“We try to wear other teams down by out-working them, working the ball up the floor quickly offensively and then out-hustling and being more aggressive on defense,” the coach explained. “We have gotten bigger this year but we need to continue to develop that part of our game while still doing what we do best, which is push the ball up the floor and be tenacious on defense.”
Moran knows that despite the schematic, the team will be up against some obstacles. The team only averaged 58.8 points a year ago and graduated leading scorer Allie Shanahan (18.0 ppg.), and the team was sloppy with the basketball, yielding a hefty 618 turnovers (24.7 pg.).
“Between our youth and our up-tempo style we did have a lot of turnovers last year and we expect to get better in that department this year. It’s a product of that experience and showing more poise and maturity with the ball in our hands,” the coach explained. “We will need to put the ball in the net to win games and overcoming Allie’s scoring output will be tough. We will have to do it by committee. We have the bodies but we need to get good production from everyone. We feel we can spread the ball out a little more and we hope that will lead to bigger points this year, but it’s all wait and see until we get out there and start putting ourselves to the test.”
Coach Moran won’t make lofty guarantees or post a timetable to winning a seventh championship. Instead, she hopes the team will continue its upward climb. If the roster has anything to do with it, CSI’s best days are still ahead and the coach is thankful to be on the ride to greater gains.
“We play with heart and we will never give up and make excuses,” she said. “We will have to work hard to gain that experience that we lack and build on the chemistry we know we can achieve.”