By Robert Janish
Senior Sports Writer
The 2016-17 Canisius women’s basketball team began play Wednesday night with an 80-73 exhibition victory over the Daemen College Wildcats at the Koessler Athletic Center.
Led by Sophomore guard Maria Welch with 15 points and Senior guard Lauren D’Hont with 14, the Griffs got off to a positive start for the year. Although it was an exhibition match-up, it could help bring some momentum into the season opener against the Northeastern University Huskies this Sunday.
Senior guard Emily Weber believes it was a good win for the team despite nerves, since it was their first competition of the new season. “I think practice tomorrow and Saturday will definitely get us prepared for Sunday, and we’re all looking forward to it,” said Weber.
Junior guard Saliah Serrette, who scored 12 points in the win over the Wildcats, believes the team’s main focus is to improve on defense during these next two practices “because we had some lapses, let them score a lot of points.”
Head Coach Terry Zeh and the team approach this upcoming season with the benefit of having played an exhibition match-up. It was something different for Zeh and the team.“I usually don’t like to play exhibition games, I like scrimmages better,” said Zeh. Zeh added that it is important to get the team out there and playing in a game-like atmosphere before playing Northeastern this Sunday.
This exhibition game definitely serves a purpose, and it will benefit the Griffs. The Griffs now have some experience in a game situations against an actual opponent that provides different challenges than playing each other in practice will.
“I thought we didn’t play great in a lot of places,” said Zeh, “but we did some good things that we can work forward [with], and now Sunday won’t be as new.”
Weber believed having an exhibition matchup was essential “because it does get the nerves out, especially for the younger players.” She added that this game could help moving forward as the season gets going for them, especially since Daemen is a good team to face in a first game.
Weber said the team has been focusing on defense, especially since Zeh’s running a new defense this season.“We play more of a pack line and [Zeh] has been putting an emphasis on that in practice,” she said.
The pack line defense is a variation of man-to-man defense, but the difference is this defensive system is more passive. In this system, the Griffs will allow outside ball movement while being tighter closer to the rim. Instead of constant pressure like you’re used to seeing in a man-to-man defense, the Griffs will be welcoming the challenge from the outside.
Serrette added that rebounding has been a key for them in order to succeed due to the shortcomings throughout last season in that department. “We’ve been working on getting rebounds,” she said.
As far as the offense is concerned, the Griffs have talent all around. There is shooting ability as well as the aggressiveness needed to drive to the rim. The Griffs believe they can score from anywhere consistently.
“I think offensively, we have enough places that we can score the basketball from,” said Zeh. “I think we can have a good season if we can defend and rebound the basketball.”
Zeh believes the youth of this team is improving, adding that while the freshman class may have faced early setbacks, they’re coming along fine. He believes that after last season, the team’s sophomores are prepared to be more involved this season, citing the fact that Welch and Sara Hinriksdottir earned a great amount of playing time last year and “they’re more veteran because of the minutes they had to play last year than they might normally be.”
Weber suffered an ACL injury that she has been working hard to recover from. “I pushed myself as hard as I could because I wanted to be the player I was before,” Weber said. “I’m very thankful to be back this year and be able to play a fifth year with my teammates.”
Zeh said having Weber back this year will add depth to their roster because “if somebody’s not having a good shooting night, then somebody else can.” He says “[Weber]’s always got a chance to make some threes on you, and people know who she is, so she changes the way the floor is being guarded when she comes in and I think that helps a lot.”
Weber says the key is to take each game at a time “and hopefully, those games will help us prepare for MAAC play.” Serette echoed her teammate, stating, “a win’s a win, so you’re always excited about a win, but we’re going to take it one game at a time.”
“I think we have a good balance in our nonconference schedule,” Zeh said. “We have some really good teams, like Ohio State’s fifth in the country, and then some really good mid-major teams, Northeastern and Akron, and UB’s going to be a really good team, so I think we have a nice balance.”
Zeh believes this schedule will push his players against teams such as Ohio State, and then will play teams similar to their MAAC competition, “so it should prepare us going into conference play.”
“Your first regular season game, you want to play well, whether you win or lose it, you want to play well,” Zeh said. He added how important it is for his team to do very well in areas where they can succeed, “and we’re hoping that’s the case, that we’re ready to go.” He stresses that an exhibition “helped us a lot more than a scrimmage would have. To put the uniforms on and get ready, it will help us a lot more than a scrimmage did.”
Opening their 2016-17 regular season this Sunday against the Northeastern Huskies, our women’s basketball team hopes to get this season started the right way in front of the home crowd, which would surely help them going forward.