Strange, but true. There were so many new faces at the Siena women’s basketball summer practice session Friday that you needed a media guide to figure out who was who.
Eight new players, plus five veterans, were put through a quick workout at The College of Saint Rose’s Daniel P. Nolan Gymnasium because of renovations being done at the Saints’ Alumni Recreation Center. Head coach Ali Jaques, who competed with only seven players for virtually the entire 2014-2015 campaign, actually had the luxury of dividing her players into three teams — gray, gold and green — for some short scrimmages.
“There are so many new faces out there,” said Jaques, whose short-handed Saints advanced to the Women’s Basketball Invitation finals en route to a surprising 22-13 record this past season.
“I think the groundwork was laid for this program last year,” Jaques said. “We know what it takes to win. The leadership is now coming from within this team, rather than from just me or the coaching staff.”
Instead of a stagnant lineup that included the same five starters every night and just two bench players, Jaques can now plan on staging battles for playing time.
“The players have to compete for jobs now,” she added. “There are two ways that coaches can motivate players — make them run or send them to the bench. I couldn’t do either last year, because we didn’t have enough players.”
In the short time she’s had to evaluate her new group, Jaques admitted that her team will have to work hard to improve its defense and its turnovers.
“We’ve had turnover problems for the last three years. But some of that was because we had some players playing out of position, especially at the point guard spot,” Jaques said.
“Our freshmen can shoot the ball, and now we will have three natural point guards. Brianna Logan is still not 100 percent back from her injury last year, but she will be in the mix. Emia Willingham is now a junior, and she got some valuable experience backing up the point last year.”
Jaques is especially high on 5-foot-10 guard Jackie Benitez, from Tobyhanna, Pa., and 6-1 forward Katcia Perryman, from The Peddie School in New Jersey.
“Jackie is an excellent shooter, and Katcia is extremely athletic,” Jaques said. “She can come close to dunking the ball already. She is a raw talent, but she can jump and rebound. From a skill standpoint, we still have a lot of things to work on with this young group, but now we have some veterans who will provide the leadership so that all the newcomers won’t have to come in and play right away.”
Jaques said she will miss graduated players Ida Krogh, who played out of position at point guard, and the versatile Tehresa Coles. Jaques will especially miss Coles, the Siena captain who was among the team’s all-time leaders in virtually every category.
“Tehresa brought so many intangibles, and one of the keys for us will be who will replace her,” Jaques said. “One of the good things I saw today was Kollyns Scarbrough diving on the floor for a loose ball. That’s the kind of play Tehresa always made.”
“This is an exciting group to play with,” said Willingham, an Albany High School graduate. “I have to be more of a leader this year. It looks like everyone here wants to work hard and compete. We know there are some things to improve on, but I think this team will be good.”
Benitez hopes she can fit into the playing mix right away.
“I know I can bring some shooting to this team,” she said. “I know I have to improve on being more vocal and in my dribbling skills, but these practice sessions this summer will help us all. We are all hustling every minute, and we like to push each other during these summer practices.”
Joella Gibson is a rookie, but she got to practice with the Saints last year as a redshirt freshman.
“I am very excited to finally know I will be playing for real this year. It seems like I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time,” Gibson said. “We all love competing on this team, and it’s different seeing so many bodies out there on the court after having so few players last year.”
Forward Emmanuella Edoka, guard Denisha Petty-Evans, guard Deja Rawls and guard Karolina Severoka, one of the top shooters on the team, are the other newcomers who will join veterans Margot Hetzke (the MAAC freshman of the year), forward Symone Kelly, forward Meghan Donohue and Willingham in the fight for playing time.
The Saints tip off their 2015-16 season at St. Bonaventure in the Preseason WNIT on Nov. 15 in Olean. The winner of that game advances to the second round against the winner of the DePaul-Southern Illinois matchup on Nov. 15, Nov. 16 or Nov. 17. The loser would drop into the consolation bracket and play two games at a to-be-determined host school the weekend of Nov. 20.
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