Shondaya Burrell has officially jumped into the deep end.
The Siena women’s basketball team’s star forward doesn’t know how to swim, but there she was in the offseason, chugging along well behind her teammates during some new pool workouts.
“I have to wear two floaties. But I’m there,” she said with a laugh on Wednesday. “Sometimes, I’d end up five laps behind everybody, but I get my doggy-paddle, and I’m
Whether the Saints sink or swim this year will depend largely on the performance of their senior forward, who was second-team All-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference last season after finishing eighth in the league in scoring.
With three starters, including Laura Menty and Melissa Manzer, graduated, Burrell will have to carry a good deal of the scoring load and contribute in every other phase of the game, too. An intense conditioning regimen during the offseason that also included boxing has given Burrell, a Colonie High graduate, all the confidence she needs.
“This being my last year, I tried to do anything and everything I could to make myself better over the summer, whether it was running extra or working out more,” she said during the annual media day at the Amuni Recreation Center. “That was probably a lot of it, being that this is my last chance to show the Siena community what I can do.”
“She’s a really explosive player,” said senior center Heather Stec, who was named captain by head coach Gina Castelli. “She’s playing so much better than she did her freshman year. She’s got a lot more control and composure. I can’t say enough about her.”
Control and composure are two qualities Castelli wants to see from Burrell, because that will lead to more consistent play from her.
Burrell can be brilliant at times, but hasn’t always been able to sustain her play at the level the Saints need from her. The way she attacked the offseason shows she’s ready to keep it at that level, and there’s a good chance that if she plays well, the team will, too.
“I think she’s her own worst enemy, really,” Castelli said. “Sometimes she’ll play more head games with herself and needs to realize that she’s wide open and can make those shots. She needs a little bit more swagger, at times.
“She’s an energy-type person. When she’s up, the team’s up, and it’s always been like that. I think she understands that. It’s taken time.”
A big component to Burrell’s game this year will be the outside shot.
Her signature on offense has been getting to the basket, but Castelli believes she can be a good jump shooter, and Burrell worked on improving that so she won’t be one-dimensional on offense.
Plus, Siena added some new players, including junior college transfers Allie Lindemann and Charlieann Chacon, who will get playing time and will help make the offense diverse.
“When I saw her playing early on in high school, her athleticism alone and her ability to get to the basket, in our league, there wasn’t really a player at the time like her,” Castelli said. “She was a player that we felt could play at a higher level. She’s just evolved. I think the year of prep school really helped her, and every year she’s learned what it takes to be a great player. This year, more than any, she’s put in the time to make herself in better shape. We’ll see. She has a lot of ability. There’s a lot more that she can do, that we saw on an inconsistent basis last year.”
“In high school, I was all drive, drive, drive, drive, drive, and when I came here, coach Castelli really sat me down and talked to me about being an all-around good player,” Burrell said. “My jump shot’s gotten better, I drive with a lot more urgency, my rebounding’s a lot better.”
Rebounding will still be a primary responsibility of Stec’s, and
Siena will have to keep her healthy through the preseason, unlike last year, when Stec broke her foot in practice and missed the first 10 games of the season.
She is embracing the captain’s role and is anxious to hit the ground running when the season starts.
“Last year was kind of a fluke incident, but I’m looking forward to a great season,” Stec said. “It [captaincy] shows that she has a lot of faith in me. If anybody’s slacking, I get on them, and if they’re doing good, I praise them, so it’s a supportive role.
“Having no Menty is kind of devastating as far as our inside, back-to-the-basket game, but [Sarah] Fullmer, Jess [Edmonds] and Serena [Moore] and myself, we’ve got a different style of play, and we’ll look to go to our strengths.”
“Heather’s the type of player who needs a lot of repetition, so the fact that she got hurt right in the beginning of the year, sitting out 10 games and then being able to play right away, she needs a lot of reps to get her timing down,” Castelli said. “Knock on wood, she’ll definitely be a much better player. And we’ll use her a little bit differently than we have in the past. She’s more of a face-up player.
“We needed to change a little bit of our style.”
The Saints open with a home game against Syracuse on Nov. 14, one of several difficult non-conference games on the schedule. They’ll also play Duke in a tournament in Los Angeles on Dec. 20 and will play host to James Madison on Dec. 30.
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