BALTIMORE – UMBC women's basketball opens its 47th season of competition and 13th under head coach Phil Stern on Friday, Nov. 14 when it welcomes Eastern (Pa.) for a noon showdown at the RAC Arena. All the live action is available free of charge on UMBCRetrievers.tv, courtesy of the America East digital network.
Retrievers' 2014-15 Season Outlook
UMBC Women's Basketball Head Coach Phil Stern and his staff and squad had eight months to think about the Retrievers' 2014-15 season. During that time, the black and gold's nine newcomers and seven returners looked within themselves to re-evaluate their goals and purpose for the upcoming season. The "Baltimore Bred" Retrievers came out of the process more determined than ever to prove themselves as a contender within Charm City and within the America East Conference.
"There's a renewed excitement around our program," said Stern. "We are returning a junior and three sophomores that got major minutes last season and have been able to blend in a great group of transfers and freshmen."
Stern enters his 13th season at the helm of UMBC and is just nine victories shy of becoming the program's all-time winningest coach, surpassing Sue Furnary (152 wins). Despite finishing the 2013-14 campaign with a 4-25 overall record and a 3-13 mark in conference play, the America East coaches know they can never count Stern and the Retrievers out for long, as UMBC was voted to finish sixth in the league's annual preseason poll.
The Oceanside, N.Y., native will once again be challenged with a young roster, after owning the conference's youngest squad a season ago. But Stern will add three eligible transfers to last year's youthful group that gained valuable playing experience, in addition to returning fifth-year center Dana Lewis, the lone member of the Retrievers' 2011 America East regular-season championship team.
Stern will once again look to Emily Russo to be the floor general for the Retrievers' offense. The 5-6 point guard was thrown into the fire during her rookie campaign, starting 28 of 29 games last season for the Retrievers and ranking third in the America East in minutes played per game (34.4). The Woodbine, Md., native led the team in steals in 14 games and assists in 12 contests, while averaging 5.8 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.2 steals per game.
Russo was voted one of the team's three captains for the 2014-15 campaign, but Stern and the Retrievers will not only look to the second-year guard for her growth in leadership, but also for an increase in scoring production this season.
"Emily is back at the point guard position and is 100 percent healthy off her ACL surgery from high school," Stern said. "She is playing really well and is doing a good job getting the ball to the right people."
Returning for the Retrievers at the guard position is America East All-Rookie Team selection Taylor McCarley. The three-time league Rookie of the Week honoree produced one of the most memorable efforts in school history, punching her way into the record books by posting the program's first-ever triple-double with 18 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists against Binghamton in the regular-season finale. McCarley will look to add to her rookie campaign averages of 9.5 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game, but not all of the attention will be pointed at the 5-10 guard.
"Taylor has just picked up where she left off last year," explained Stern. "She's playing with a lot of confidence and is seeing the floor well."
The Retrievers will look to junior college transfer Capree Garner to make an immediate impact in the 2014-15 slate. The 5-7 junior ranked third in the nation with 22.5 points per game as a freshman and led the nation in scoring with 28.1 points per game as a sophomore at Harford Community College, becoming the Maryland Junior College all-time leader in points (1,497) and steals (246). Garner, who shot 53.9 percent from the field as a rookie, is a natural-born scorer that possesses the ability to shoot from outside, as well as get to the basket.
"Capree is everything that we thought she would be as far as scoring in several different ways," said Stern. "She's explosive in getting to the basket, she has a great mid-range game, but most importantly, she plays just as hard on the defensive end of the court."
Garner and McCarley both have the ability to take over the point guard role to give Russo a breather, in addition to first-year guard Carly Harris providing a viable option at that vital position. Harris is a pass-first point guard that averaged 6.0 assists per game during her first three seasons at Shaler Area High School. Also vying for time at the guard position will be freshman Zaenna Echevarria and sophomore Marissa Somerville. Echevarria, a four-year letterwinner and two-time team captain at powerhouse York Catholic High School, has been plagued with injuries throughout the fall, but showed the coaching staff great promise during the summer months. Somerville appeared in two games during her rookie campaign, but looks to make more of an impact in her second season on campus.
The Retrievers will miss the three-point presence of senior guard Janelle Saling, who was forced to end her playing career due to injury. Saling led the team in three-point field goals made (34) a season ago, but the trio of Liz McNaughton, Laura Castaldo and Maddie Torresin will look to fill the scoring gap with their versatility to score inside the paint or from beyond the arc.
McNaughton is the second of three voted team captains after emerging as a vocal leader during her sophomore campaign. The Fairfax, Va., native started 27 of 29 games in 2013-14 and increased her scoring production by 4.1 points per game from her rookie campaign, averaging 5.9 points and adding 3.2 rebounds per game.
"I'm proud of Liz for toughing it out during a foot injury in the fall," explained Stern. "She's playing the best basketball she's played since she's been here. She is shooting the ball really well and will be able to extend the defense for our post players."
Castaldo is a guard that is comfortable playing with her back to the basket and will see time at both spots, but Stern is most excited about the toughness she brings to the team, which will undoubtedly increase her playing time during her rookie campaign. Castaldo is the reigning Rockland Player of the Year and averaged 27.2 points and 11.2 rebounds per game during her senior season at Clarkstown South.
Torresin is long and athletic, as one of six Retriever players standing at 6-0 or above. She has the ability to put up numbers in bunches after averaging a team-best 15.3 points per game and adding 5.6 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game as a senior at Cumberland Valley High School.
Despite a very talented perimeter game, the Retrievers will have plenty of options at the post position in 2014-15. UMBC welcomes back fifth-year center Dana Lewis, who missed all of the 2013-14 season due to injury. Lewis started 20 of 26 games in 2012-13 and averaged career-bests of 4.0 rebounds and 3.0 points per game.
"I'm so excited for Dana to be healthy and to get to play her senior year," said Stern. "Dana has been here through good times and bad and I'm excited to see her play healthy and see major minutes in her final season."
Also returning for the Retrievers is the squad's Most Improved Athlete from a season ago, sophomore Amanda Hagaman. The 6-2 post provided a spark off the bench as UMBC's sixth person and shot a team-best 51.4 percent from the floor. Hagaman will look to improve on her 4.2 points and 3.5 rebounds per game from a season ago.
"Amanda is in the best shape of anybody on our team and never takes a play off," explained Stern. "She has earned respect in our program as being the hardest worker, and has earned all the minutes she is going to get."
Transfers Pandora Wilson and Infiniti Alston will look to make immediate impacts on both the offensive and defensive end for the Retrievers. Wilson and Alston both joined the Retrievers for spring semester in 2014 after spending time at Drexel and Penn State, respectively, and each have three years left of eligibility. Wilson appeared in two games with the Dragons, while Alston made four appearances with the Nittany Lions. Wilson is the final captain for the Retrievers this season and has proven to be the most vocal of the three thus far.
"Pandora is a leader," admitted Stern. "She has been here less than a year and is someone that the team voted on to be a captain.
"On the floor, Pandora is a post player who can score with her back to the basket or facing the basket," Stern continued. "Infiniti is also a very talented post player, who has both power and finesse, and will certainly give us an option that we've never had before."
"Both the newcomers and the returners have really bought into the purpose and the core values of our program and that should help us get back to where we want to be."
The Retrievers open their season on Friday, Nov. 12 against Eastern (Pa.), with tip-off set for noon at the RAC Arena. UMBC opens its 12th campaign in America East action with four of its first five games on the road, starting with a trip to UMass Lowell on Thursday, Jan. 8.
Scouting the Eagles
-Eastern was picked to finish second in the Freedom Conference preseason poll after finishing in the second spot a season ago. The Eagles posted a 9-5 record in conference play and a 14-12 mark overall.
-Fifth-year head coach Nate Davis returns four seniors to his roster, including Megan Nowak, an All-Mid-Atlantic Region Third Team honoree by D3hoops.com. Nowak averaged a team-best 16.1 points and 8.9 rebounds per game as a junior.
Inside the Series
-The Retrievers open against Eastern (Pa.) for the second straight season and are unbeaten in two all-time meetings. Last season, UMBC defeated the Eagles, 59-50, at the RAC Arena.