ALBANY — Players with versatility and high motors were what UAlbany women’s basketball head coach Colleen Mullen tried to add to her program with her latest recruiting class.
“I really want to play a style that is faster than what we’ve been able to play; one that’s more guard-oriented,” said Mullen, who completed her third season leading the Great Danes this past March.
Formally announced this past week, UAlbany added four players to its roster with its latest class of recruits. Included in that group are former Section II standouts Lilly Phillips of Cambridge High School and Abby Ray of Saratoga Springs High School, as well as Koi Sims of Maryland and Freja Werth who joins returning Great Danes Helene Haegerstrand and Ellen Hahne in hailing from Sweden.
Ray and Phillips are guards, while Sims and Werth are each capable of playing multiple positions on the perimeter. UAlbany also announced last week that starting point guard Kyara Frames will return for a fifth season.
Depth, particularly on the perimeter, won’t be an issue next season. With Frames’ return, UAlbany projects to return its top eight players in terms of minutes played per game, and Mullen said recently that she expects members of her incoming freshman class to compete right away for playing time.
Mullen mentioned the shooting prowess of Phillips should help the incoming freshman compete for minutes, in addition to the other positive traits she brings to the program.
“She really excites me because of her length, her height and her ability to be vocal,” Mullen said of the 5-foot-11 Lilly Phillips, who teamed in high school with her twin sister Sophie Phillips who will play next season for Rhode Island. “She embodies what I look for in players.”
Mullen added: “That kid plays so hard. She has a motor on both ends of the floor. . . . She’s a great kid for our culture.”
The same, Mullen said, goes for Ray. For much of her high school career, Ray played a supporting role to former Blue Streaks standout Dolly Cairns — now playing at Rhode Island — but Mullen said Ray showed during her senior season, playing without Cairns, that she could serve as a true lead guard at the college level.
“We think we got a diamond in the rough with her,” Mullen said. “We think she’s someone who can develop into a special player.”
Mullen said she views Sims similarly, in that the 6-foot-0 forward has a “high ceiling” the Great Danes coaching staff needs to help her reach. Werth, seemingly, should provide the Great Danes a bit more of a ready-to-play contributor since she’s previously played in Sweden’s top league and on the country’s national teams.
“She is extremely versatile,” Mullen said of Werth.
UAlbany was a strong defensive team last season, which saw the Great Danes finish 7-11 overall and make it to the America East Conference semifinals. But in a season that saw the Great Danes experience multiple pauses related to COVID-19 protocols and struggle to consistently practice, UAlbany only averaged 49.8 points per game and made just 37.5% of its field-goal attempts.
Mullen said she’s optimistic the program’s incoming players can help address some of the Great Danes’ offensive woes, but expects a return to normalcy in terms of offseason work and in-season practice availability to play a larger role in allowing UAlbany to better its offensive output.
“We need to score more points. We need to play faster,” Mullen said. “We need some people to stretch the defense and create shots.”
Mullen confirmed that four of the team’s 2020-21 players won’t return next season.
Chay Hayes, Maky Johnson and Izzy Om are underclassmen leaving the program. Those three players combined to score 38 points last season.
Additionally, guard Khepera Stokes — who missed all of her redshirt senior season last season with an injury — won’t return for next season.
Mullen said guard Morgan Haney is “doing great” in her recovery from re-injuring her knee.
Haney tore an ACL several games into her freshman season, then suffered the same injury while rehabilitating and missed all of her sophomore season.
Haney started all seven games she played as a freshman during the 2019-20 season.
“She’s rehabbing and we’re hoping she’ll be back in the fall,” Mullen said.
TAKING A BREAK
Mullen said her program won’t begin its formal summer workouts until the final week of July.
That decision, she said, was made in large part to give her returning players a “big, long break” following a trying season played amid the pandemic.
“They needed to be back with their families,” Mullen said. “I feel like they really needed that to recharge.”
Mullen said, too, that the increasing presence of international players on her roster played a role in how the coach scheduled the team’s summer. Once players are back for summer workouts, they’ll stay on campus through the start of the academic year.
Including the incoming Werth, next season’s UAlbany roster projects to include three players from Sweden, one from Austria and one from Italy.