ALBANY — It was only the team’s first on-court session together, and it’s easy to be eager and enthused right at the start of summer workouts.
But, still, UAlbany women’s basketball head coach Colleen Mullen was thoroughly impressed with the energy and spirit her players displayed during one of the program’s staple drills — called “UConn close-outs” — during Thursday’s practice.
“That might be the best drill I’ve ever seen us [do] because everybody was competitive,” said Mullen, UAlbany’s fourth-year head coach.
“It was the first [practice], but we have a lot of energy,” forward Helene Haegerstrand said. “It was so much fun. We’re all excited to be back.”
Allowing her players extra time to recharge following a grueling 2020-21 campaign that saw the Great Danes experience several pandemic-related pauses of in-person team activities likely helped along what Mullen saw on the court Thursday. Mullen’s players started their summer session with individual workouts Monday, weeks after most other Division I clubs, and that delay allowed the team’s players — and coaches — some extra time to recuperate “after this crazy year that they had” that ended with an appearance in the America East Conference semifinals.
“We really appreciate Coach giving us that extended time [off] because it was . . . a very weird year last year,” said Haegerstrand, a native of Sweden who is one of five UAlbany players from outside of the United States.
While UAlbany returns a large part of its core from last season, the club did add four freshmen, including two former Section II stars in Lilly Phillips (Cambridge) and Abby Ray (Saratoga Springs). Grace Heeps, a junior guard from East Greenbush, said the team’s newcomers have added depth and versatility to the Great Danes, while Haegerstrand appreciated the approach of the freshmen.
“They’re so awesome,” Haegerstrand said. “They listen to everything and they just work hard.”
“The freshmen are really competitive and proven winners,” Mullen said.
In the upcoming weeks, Heeps said she expects the level of attention to detail and energy for the Great Danes to stay at a high level.
“Everyone knows the expectations we have,” Heeps said.
Kyara Frames, as it turns out, will not be playing an extra season for the UAlbany women’s basketball program.
UAlbany had announced in early June that the guard who averaged 8.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.9 assists last season was expected to return to the Great Danes for the 2021-22 season, but Mullen confirmed Thursday that the Maryland native had transferred to finish her college career at George Washington.
“We’re going to miss her a lot, but having a lot of returners — and returning four out of five starters — is huge for us,” Heeps said.
Mullen said Frames made the decision to transfer to George Washington because “she really wanted to stay close to home” after a trying year, which included the deaths of multiple family members.
“Luckily, she found a place closer to her family so that she can be there, and her family can be close by for her games,” Mullen said.
GREAT DANES VS. SAINTS
The non-conference schedule for neither UAlbany nor Siena has been released yet, but Mullen said the teams will play this season.
“The game will be here,” said Mullen, whose team traveled to play at Siena in 2019.
The teams were scheduled to play last season, too, but the matchup never occurred because of issues related to the novel coronavirus pandemic.