Aspiring to be a championship side is nothing new for Head Coach Tim Shanahan and his College of Staten Island women’s basketball teams, but now removed from a CUNYAC crown and even an appearance in the title game for over a decade, there is certainly a sense of urgency with this year’s side, and it should make for an exciting turn in 2016-17. The Dolphins kick-off the season at the Wagner College Spiro Center against their borough NCAA Division I rivals and will go fast and furious through a season that they hope culminates in lifting the CUNYAC championship trophy in late-February.
“We are cautiously optimistic,” said the coach. “We bring back a great nucleus and even though we lost some talent and leadership we have some winning personalities on this team and it makes it easy to be a coach. We are looking forward to some big things.”
There is good reason to be excited. The Dolphins lost three primary pieces from a year ago in seniors Victoria Gallinaro and Jamie Pifalo, and non-returning CUNYAC Rookie of the Year Nicole Vierno, but the rest of the returning squad remains intact. That returning force includes CUNYAC All-Star Christina Pasaturo, who led the team in scoring and tied the single season assists record a year ago, and interior threat Samantha Flecker, who blossomed to score 15.6 points per contest while pacing the team with 8.4 rebounds per game. They will join backcourt dynamo Victoria Crea, who returns from a season-ending injury a year ago after a CUNYAC All-Star season in 2014-15. That trio is a nucleus any school would be lucky to have, according to their coach.
“Having this returning core is something I don’t take for granted,” Shanahan said. “We are very lucky. Between talent, experience and leadership it’s a tremendous combination we hope to take advantage of. They are like having three coaches on the court and it’s comforting to know their best basketball is probably still in front of them.”
There will be more pieces to the returning puzzle, as joining in the charge will be second-year players Angelique Price (5.8 ppg., 2.3 rpg.), Rosa Perone (4.1 ppg., 3.1 rpg.), Nicole Imbesi (1.5 ppg.) and Jaqueline Cali (2.8 ppg.). The freshmen collection of a year ago gained valuable minutes on the court and that should pay higher dividends this year.
“Without a doubt it is pehenomenal how much our first year players picked up last year,” Shanahan noted. “They were thrown into the fire and not only did they survive, they used what they learned and have applied it already in practice and in our scrimmages. I’ve seen so much growth in that unit and a lot of it is because they didn’t carry themselves like freshmen last year. They were all big contributors.”
Shanahan knows that the rest of the CUNYAC contingent will follow suit with returning talent, so like a year ago, his first-year players will need to play a large role and improvement will be the key for them from start to finish. Look for point guard Elena Demontreuz and forward Nihada Bracic to add immediate help to the fray, while players like Lina Bitar will provide sound depth to the 14-player roster.
“I’m very impressed with the poise and talent our first year players have,” he said. ” They provide us the latitude we need to extend our bench and put our players in different roles out there during games. Our level of basketball court IQ is strong and we plan to really incorporate our younger players because they know they will not be treated with kid gloves. They all understand and want that large role.”
Tallied up, Shanahan hopes his team will improve on the 19-9 CUNYAC Semifinalist team of a year ago. Don’t expect to see too many surprises on the court itself as far as game play. Shanahan prefers an up-tempo game that will test opponent’s conditioning. The team’s high intensity defense was among the national leaders in forced turnovers and steals, leading to fast break points and transition offense. Winning those intangibles will be critical again to the team’s success.
“For those that know us, it will be typical to the type of basketball we play,” Shanahan impressed. “We are prepared and trained to go up and down the floor with anyone and the goal is to push the ball and be aggressive and score in transition. We are undersized but we will focus on good, strong, fundamental basketball to overcome that. We want to be the better conditioned and smarter team on the court.”
Of course, a championship and a trip to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005 is the goal, but Shanahan will keep his vision for the season tempered. At the end of the day, he wants his unit to peak at the end of the season, playing intelligent and polished basketball along the way. If they do that, not only will Shanahan be happy, but it could lead to hardware at the end.
“Obviously we want to win the CUNYAC Championship and get to the National Championship. That’s a standard goal for most teams. I feel if things fall our way we can do it. I have enough confidence in this group that we can do what it takes to realize that goal this year.”
CSI will tip-off against Wagner College on Tuesday, but will save their NCAA Division III tip-off in front of their home crowd on Saturday, November 19 against Western New England at 2:00pm. The team will play a 16-game conference slate, a run that features an early season road contest at the defending champion Lehman College side on December 9. The Dolphins will hit a road stretch at midseason that sees them play six of seven on the road from January 6 to January 25. They finalize with four of their final five contests at home, all against CUNYAC competition.
Tickets to CSI home games are $5 for general admission, and free for CSI Students, Faculty and Staff. Home games are also PG-CLUE Certified for students, and will be broadcast live and free in HD on CSI SportsNet. Live statistics for each game will also be featured.