Whenever a 6-24 team abruptly loses its most dynamic player, the fallout is generally to brace for a rebuilding year.
But the Binghamton women’s basketball team isn’t approaching 2013-14 as if it’s in the middle of a transition phase.
The Bearcats have a new one-two punch in their backcourt. They’ve got a pair of all-conference returnees down low. And they’ve got support off the bench that is capable of providing a spark.
They just have to get off on the right foot.
“I think the big thing for this team is how well we start this year,” head coach Nicole Scholl said. “Obviously, with only winning six games last year, we got off to a very slow start. I think that type of mentality needs to change for this group.”
The Bearcats lost their first eight games last year and that was back when they still had their energizer bunny, Jasbriell Swain. But Swain transferred after the end of last season, leaving a giant void on Binghamton’s roster and forcing players to adjust to larger roles.
“I think everyone who’s out on the floor this year is going to have to take charge and replace some of those points,” Scholl said. “Right now on the inside, [sophomore forward] Morgan Murphy and [junior forward] Sherae Swinson have been looking very good, and I think will help balance some of that out. And with our experienced players like [senior guard] Stephanie Jensen and [senior guard] Vaneeshia Paulk out on the perimeter, I think they’re going to help some of that load as well.”
Jensen, who has traditionally played the two-guard but is being called upon to co-run the point in 2013-14, shared similar thoughts on how each player on the roster will have to step up to make up for the loss of Swain.
“Jas was a huge piece for us offensively and defensively,” Jensen said. “But we return our leading scorer in Sherae Swinson, so I think [Swain] can be replaced. We’ve got some good players off the bench who are ready to step up and take some responsibility this year.”
Jensen, who led BU with 37 3-pointers, and Paulk, who reached double figures in scoring six times, will replace Swain in coordinating the offense as the tandem is set to lead Binghamton down the floor.
While Jensen is a shooter and Paulk is a penetrator, Scholl hopes the two different styles of play will keep defenses on their toes.
“Paulk is push with dribble first where Jensen is push with the pass first,” Scholl said. “So I think that combination, if we can get that working for us, I think it’ll definitely help us getting the ball up the floor. It’s nice thing to have … two primary ball handlers on the floor and they were named our captains this year, too, so obviously providing a lot of leadership for us also.”
With conflicting styles of play, it’ll take some time before the duo operates fluidly together, but Jensen is confident that “the more [they] play together… it’s going to show on the floor.”
“We’re two different players,” Paulk said. “If I penetrate and drive, she should be looking to me for a kick. If she’s on point, she can kick out to me and I can attack.”
Sophomores Kim Albrecht and Kandace Newry, both of who have experience as starters for BU, figure to see increased roles in the backcourt and will serve as reliable options off the bench.
And while Jensen and Paulk will try to tire their opponents by running the ball in transition, in the half-court, the Bearcats will default to their formidable weapons up front, Morgan Murphy and Sherae Swinson.
Swinson took on a new role last season as the focal point of the offense. The 6-foot forward led Binghamton with 9.9 points per game and reached double figures in scoring a team-high 15 times. Despite her inexperience in the role, Swinson is once again ready to be the first option offensively for BU this year.
“I’ve never been in this position as a basketball player so it’s very new to me, to be the go-to player,” Swinson said. “But I’m accepting the role and since my coaches and teammates have a lot of confidence in me, I’m sure I can do it.”
Murphy, meanwhile, averaged seven points per game in 2012-13 and was named to the America East all-rookie team. The 5-foot-10 forward led BU in points five times and rebounding four times.
“I think Morgan’s potential is unlimited,” Scholl said. “For her, it’s just a matter of continuing to improve every year. She works extremely hard both on and off the floor as far as in the classroom and on the floor. I think from this year, you’ll see a little more inside-out play because we can capitalize on a little bit of both of that.”
With Kara Elofson and Simone Thomas having graduated last year, seniors Julia Barac and Kyra Aloizos and sophomore Jessa Molina will be trusted sources of experience. Freshman Kristin Ross, who earned all-state honors, will also help in replacing the graduates.
Binghamton was picked to finish eighth in the preseason poll, but Jensen spoke for the team when she said, “I think all of us agree on the fact that we should have been higher … It’s definitely a motivator for us.”
“I think this year, as far as the conference goes,” Scholl said, “obviously Albany and Hartford are always two very strong programs, but I think you kind of look down the line with who people graduated last year and I think there’s going to be a lot of parity this year in the conference.”
The Bearcats only managed a single non-conference victory last season and had only two wins at home. With opening tipoff against Buffalo set for Friday night at the Events Center, Binghamton has an opportunity to start 2013-14 on a much different note.