After a disappointing 2015 campaign, the Cards will look to their seniors and veteran coach to lead them back to NESCAC tournament play

We are a few days away from basketball returning to campus and there is a lot of excitement circulating around the women’s team. Positive energy is very contagious in a locker room, and it seems like that’s what’s happening to the Cardinals since practices started earlier this November. But there is a reason for the buzz around the team this year. Many new faces on the women’s team will surely inject some energy that may have been missing last year. Additionally, there are new faces on the coaching staff looking to change the team’s focus after posting an overall 9-14 record last season.

Although this may seem like a young team, its members aren’t exactly thinking about the long term.

“I think we are trying to focus on the immediate future,”  said Captain Jackie Browne ’16. “We are committed to entering January with a winning record before we start NESCAC play. One of our primary goals for the season as a whole is to make the NESCAC playoffs. Once you earn a spot in [the] playoffs, it is almost like an entirely new season, and anybody can win.”

Browne and the rest of the team see their potential and feel that this could be their time to rise to the occasion.

Importantly, too, the unpredictability of NESCAC play over the last few years proves that if you can make it to postseason play, anybody can take home the trophy. Just ask the men’s basketball team, whose late playoff surge last season led to the first NESCAC championship in team history.

But Browne isn’t just saying this out of thin air. She sees the differences in practice as well.

“Our focus has been a little bit different than the past,” she said. “Our defense these past few years has been pretty strong and consistent, so I think we have turned more focus to offensive principles. We’re trying to figure out how to get more open shots, and get the ball into the posts more often.”

Browne will be joined by fellow senior Kaylie Williams, a primary scorer and rebounder for the team last season. Other upperclassmen expected to make significant contributions to the squad this season include Lauren Gaj ’17, Brenna Diggins ’17 and Danielle Gervacio ’17, all of whom saw limited playing time as sophomores last year. Kadijah Matthews ’18, Maeve Vitale ’18 and Maddie Bledsoe ’18 will also likely see a significant increase in minutes given the squad’s lack of upperclassmen depth. Finally, the Cards will get a spark from newcomers Chynna Bailey ’19, Tara Berger ’19, Olivia Gorman ’19, and Courtney Henrich ’19, who are all promising additions to the team.

Bledsoe in particular is looking forward to getting back on to the court to prove that the Cards are hungry to win this season.

“Our season didn’t go as well as we would have liked, so we are all excited to go into this season as underdogs in the NESCAC and hopefully surprise some teams with how competitive we can be,” she said.

Bledsoe is referring to the team’s underwhelming 2-8 conference record last season, which kept the Cards out of postseason play for the first time since the 2010-2011 campaign. However, the players clearly feel that a diligent work ethic and good team chemistry will help the squad excel in the NESCAC conference, where wins are notoriously difficult to come by.

The Cards will once again be led by the respected and beloved coach Kate Mullen, who enters her 24th season at the helm. Mullen is by far the most accomplished women’s coach in Wesleyan history, and she has added some new faces to help lead the Cardinals this year. Laura Pierce and Quinn O’Brien now form part of a coaching staff determined to get Cards back into the NESCAC tournament.

The road to the tournament begins Saturday as the Cards travel to Swarthmore, PA where they will go up against Randolph-Macon College on Saturday and Swarthmore College on Sunday.

“We are opening up the season at Swarthmore this year, and we would love 2-0 come Sunday,” Browne said.

Time will tell if the Cards come away with two wins after this weekend. But it looks like the members of the team have the same mindset. They are tired of waiting. They want to win now.

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