ALBANY — For a UAlbany women’s basketball program that spent the early portion of its season anxiously waiting for its roster to return to full strength, seeing Lucia Decortes’ name penciled back into the starting lineup Tuesday afternoon against Dartmouth was a sight for sore eyes.
“Having the starting group kind of back felt really good,” UAlbany head coach Colleen Mullen said Thursday, “even though she was very limited in her minutes.”
Decortes, a 2021 America East All-Defensive Team selection, scored eight points while playing 15 minutes in Tuesday’s 73-45 win. It was the first action of the season for the 6-foot-3 graduate student from Italy, who sat out UAlbany’s first nine games while recovering from a lower leg injury — a different injury than the one that forced the center to miss the final few weeks of last season.
For Decortes, making her return was a long-awaited moment.
“It was awesome,” Decortes said. “I was just so excited to be back with my teammates and fighting for a win. At first, I was nervous, but it was [back to] natural after the first few minutes.”
For the Great Danes (5-5 overall), Decortes’ presence is crucial to unlocking the team’s full potential. A formidable post defender, Decortes is coming off a season in which she led the America East with 44 blocked shots and averaged 4.9 rebounds per game. She’s also an efficient inside presence on offense, as she averaged 5.8 points per game on a team-best 53.9% shooting last season.
“Getting Lucia back, we’re a different team defensively,” Mullen said. “And just composure-wise, her understanding of our offense, it was great to have her back.”
Getting Decortes back was good news for a UAlbany team that returned its top nine scorers from last season’s America East championship team, but has seen four of the top six miss multiple games this season due to injury.
In addition to Decortes, senior Helene Haegerstrand missed the team’s first four games, while neither reigning America East Sixth Player of the Year Morgan Haney nor second-team all-conference selection Kayla Cooper has seen action this season.
Even with Decortes’ return, UAlbany still had to deal with more injury news Tuesday as sophomore guard Freja Werth missed the Dartmouth game after she was injured during the team’s pregame shootaround.
“It was unfortunate, losing Freja in the shootaround,” Mullen said. “You know, get one [player] back, lose one”
As UAlbany heads to Boston College for a 2 p.m. game on Saturday, Mullen said that the status for Werth, Cooper and Haney was “TBD,” with Mullen hopeful that Werth will be available. Cooper and Haney are a bit more up in the air, with Cooper a full participant in Thursday’s practice while Haney watched from the sideline.
“We’re hopeful that it’s going to be soon, but we’re not sure yet,” Mullen said. “They’re still TBD. I wait for [athletic trainer] Justin [Unislawski] to tell me who’s available.”
BIG STRETCH AHEAD
The trip to Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts on Saturday is the second of a five-game road trip that will lead the Great Danes into their America East opener on Dec. 29 against Vermont. It’s also the first in a stretch of three out of four games against opponents from power conferences.
After facing the ACC’s Boston College, UAlbany visits the Big 10’s Ohio State on Dec. 16 before a Dec. 20 matchup against another ACC foe in Syracuse. The only break in the action will come Wednesday with a matchup against Division I newcomer Stonehill.
Dealing with this tough stretch will go a long way toward testing UAlbany’s mettle as the club embarks on its conference title defense.
“They’re going to be tough games,” graduate student guard Ellen Hahne said. “We really just have to focus on us and building from each game.”
REMATCH IN CHESTNUT HILL
Visiting BC means going up against former UAlbany head coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee, who is in her fifth season with the Eagles (7-4 overall). Bernabei-McNamee led UAlbany from 2016-18, going 48-20 in those two seasons and leading the Great Danes to the 2017 NCAA tournament.
Bernabei-McNamee faced her former program for the first time last season, with Boston College taking a 77-65 win on Nov. 28, 2021 in a game that saw UAlbany pull within a point in the fourth quarter before BC’s pressure forced the Great Danes to falter down the stretch.
Mullen said her team will need to cope with that pressure more successfully this time around if they want to be successful on Saturday, something she emphasized in a frank post-practice talk with her players on Thursday.
“You want them to feel like practice is harder than the game, so they feel prepared,” Mullen said. “I want them to come in and have a chip on their shoulder and be competitive, and not let other people speed them up, and get excited when people are trying to take things away from them, because there’s always a counter to everything that the defense does.”
Contact Adam Shinder at [email protected] or on Twitter @Adam_Shinder.