UAlbany women’s basketball heads into pivotal offseason

University at Albany head coach Colleen Mullen Wednesday, January 10, 2023.

University at Albany head coach Colleen Mullen Wednesday, January 10, 2023.

ALBANY — It’ll be different.

The question is how much different.

After entering the 2022-23 campaign with its full cast of key contributors back from a team that won the America East Conference championship the prior season, head coach Colleen Mullen’s program starts this offseason knowing its roster could see significant changes.

“There’s a lot up in the air right now,” Mullen said in a recent interview with The Daily Gazette. “It’s a little difficult to try to figure out until things shake out a little bit more.”

From a team that won a share of the America East regular-season crown and lost in the league’s postseason tournament before closing its season in the WNIT with a March 17 defeat at UMass, what’s certain is that Lucia Decortes and Ellen Hahne will not be back next season since both forwards exhausted their eligibility.

Five players — Helene Haegerstrand, Morgan Haney, Grace Heeps, Taniya Hanner and Fatima Lee — will earn degrees this spring, but could return for at least one more season.

Three players — Taylor Moffat, Karyn Sanford and Freja Werth — have entered into the NCAA transfer portal and are considering their options.  

That leaves four players — Kayla Cooper, Lilly Phillips, Abby Ray and Marie Sepp — still squarely remaining from the team’s roster, which also already has four pledges from high school seniors to join it for the 2023-24 season.

From a 22-12 team, it remains possible that UAlbany could return its top-two scorers. Cooper led the Great Danes in scoring at 15.2 points per game and rebounds at 8.3 rebounds per game, while Haegerstrand was next in scoring at 14.2 points per game.

Haegerstrand is among that group of five players that could graduate, but still have playing eligibility. Within that quintet are three players — Haegerstrand, Haney and Heeps — who were regular starters this past season. Mullen said her club’s veterans have choices to make ahead of them.

“I don’t know anything about that group. Everybody’s kind of up in the air,” Mullen said. “Some said in the beginning of the year that they wanted to stay and some of them said that they definitely wanted to leave [after the season]. But, now, things are changing. . . . So we’ll find out a little bit more when we have those meetings.”

After the season, an injury-plagued one that saw the Great Danes put together a resilient campaign to finish atop the conference standings, Mullen said it was important for the team’s players to get some time off to “recharge and relax” before beginning offseason activities. 

“We’re just, like, so injured right now. So exhausted,” Mullen said. “Our kids needed time.”

The Great Danes started optional offseason workouts this week, and the team’s coaching staff will be in Dallas later this week for the Final Four. When the coaches return, reloading the program’s roster will be a priority in the months ahead.

Beyond the team’s four high school recruits, Mullen said she expects to fill out the rest of her roster with players from the transfer portal. An international recruiting trip is expected at some point during the offseason, as has become a staple for the Great Danes, but Mullen is seeking players with previous college experience to complement Cooper and Co. for next season.

“It’s something we’re always keeping an eye on, and we’ve kept an eye on it,” Mullen said of the transfer portal. “We’re just very particular about the type of players we’re bringing in. It has to be the right fit on both ends.”

The right fit for UAlbany involves players capable of carrying on the culture the Great Danes have established for themselves during Mullen’s first five seasons leading them. That was on display this past season, as UAlbany continued to win at a high level despite dealing with health woes and without use of a true home court since the school’s on-campus arena is being renovated.

“To still win a regular-season championship, to earn a postseason berth, 22 wins — what an unbelievable demonstration of the players being resilient and a coaching staff keeping players and everybody on the task at hand,” Mullen said. “Very, very, very challenging — but very rewarding.”

Categories: -Sports-, College Sports, Sports, UAlbany

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