Women’s basketball starts its 2016-17 season this weekend at the two-day Emerson Tip-Off Tournament. Under the continued leadership of Head Coach Kate Mullen, the team is looking to have the same strong start to the season as it enjoyed last year and is eyeing a return to the NESCAC tournament.

Despite their hot start, the Cards posted a disappointing 7-15 overall record and a 1-9 conference mark in the NESCAC at the conclusion of the 2015-16 season.

The Cards’ NESCAC campaign last season was highlighted by a 70-46 win against Trinity, with Brenna Diggins ’17 scoring 18 points. Wesleyan gained the lead quickly, soaring to an 18-12 lead after only 10 minutes. By halftime, they had gained a 34-17 lead. This was perhaps their most impressive win of the season.

This year, the team is led by Danielle Gervacio ’17 and Maddie Bledsoe ’18. Gervacio led the squad in assists last season, averaging 3.1 per game. She ranked fourth in scoring, with 7.5 points per game.

The Cardinals are hoping to replace last year’s top scorer, Kaylie Williams ’16. Diggins, also a major force for the Cards on both ends, will not return for what would have been her senior season. Bledsoe, who averaged 7.4 points per game last season, and Tara Berger ’19, who averaged 6.4 points per game last season, are looking to fill the void left by these departures.

As Mullen enters into her 25th season as head coach, she is only six wins away from 400 career victories. After a successful preseason, Mullen is excited about the team this year.

“The coaching staff and I are excited about the energy, attitude and focus this year’s team has shown so far,” Mullen wrote in an email to The Argus. “The fall preseason went very well and our practices have been very competitive and very positive, striving to get better each day.”

Nelson Albino also joins the team this year as an assistant coach, bringing with him extensive experience coaching other schools in the NESCAC. Prior to joining the coaching staff, he was an assistant men’s basketball coach at Conn College, an assistant men’s basketball coach at New York University, and a coach on the Colby staff.

Eight players from last season’s squad are returning this year, with three new freshmen joining the team. Both captains are looking forward to the new additions.

“We have a lot of major contributors returning from last year and I am excited to see how everyone has improved and grown over the past year,” Bledsoe wrote in an email to The Argus. “In addition to this we have new and talented freshmen who all have the potential to be valuable contributors this year.”

Bledsoe reflected on the challenges presented to the team last season, but is focused on moving forward.

“Last season we had many close games that didn’t go our way, which lead to some inevitable frustration,” she wrote. “Something to take from that is the value of remaining united as a team throughout the highs and lows of a season. This season two of our main focuses are bringing energy and togetherness to every game and practice, two things that are at the center of our team identity.”

One such game that hurt the Cards last season was a devastating 65-63 loss to Williams. Wesleyan led the game for most of the second half, holding a 63-60 lead with only two minutes left to play. Williams earned the victory after breaking a 63-63 tie in the closing three seconds of the game. Gervacio led the game with 17 points.

Another close game was a 66-54 loss against Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Although the Cards outscored MIT 29-28 in the second half, they could not make up for their 13 point deficit at halftime.

Gervacio agreed with her co-captain’s statements regarding the team’s tough losses, while also focusing on goals for the season.

“Our goals this season will probably be broken up into increments,” Gervacio wrote in an email to The Argus. “Each part of our season will represent a new goal. So, our goal during pre-NESCAC play will be to grow as a group, to learn and commit to memory each other’s strengths. A goal during NESCAC season will be to challenge and compete with every opponent and to show resilience every time we’re out on the court. It’s a long season in an always tough conference so we will be tested.”

The team is looking forward to gaining confidence and ensuring their composure throughout the upcoming season.

“The overall goal for every season is to finish the season with a record that qualifies us for the NESCAC tournament,” Bledsoe wrote. “Achieving this goal will come from starting and finishing every game the way we know we are capable of, and playing consistently from game to game.”

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