Her physically demanding system already firmly in place, University at Albany head women’s basketball coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson plans on letting up on the throttle and allowing her key players to lead the Great Danes in their attempt to repeat as America East Conference champions.
At least that’s her game plan before the season starts. Her veteran players aren’t so sure.
The Great Danes won their first conference title and inaugural trip to the NCAA tournament a year ago under Abrahamson-Henderson’s tough leadership, and they return most of their key personnel from the squad that compiled a 14-2 conference mark and a 23-10 overall record. The Great Danes played
defending national champion Texas A&M almost even in the first half before eventually losing, 69-47, in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.
Although Abrahamson-Henderson said she won’t be as much hands-on in practice, she doesn’t want to change her philosophy too much.
“They like my predictability. I don’t change. The kids need structure and discipline,” she said.
Abrahamson-Henderson likes her leadership core that includes seniors Ebone Henry, Julie Forster and Kayana Williams, along with junior Lindsey Lowrie. The coach believes that quartet will keep the rest of the players in line and focused on the task at hand — to repeat as champions.
“Ebone waits and then explodes like a Rottweiler. Her mentality is just like mine when I played,” Abrahamson-Henderson said.
“Julie is a silent killer. Lindsey is the kind of player who is liked by everybody, and Keyana is definitely a quiet leader who makes sure everybody does what they are supposed to do.
“You’ve got to remember that our seniors had a tough time here when they were freshmen, and they don’t want to go back to that time. Ebone, Julie, Keyana and Lindsay all have a different philosophy of leadership, but they all want to win.”
Henry is the team’s top all-around player on both sides of the court. She averaged a team-best 14.3 points per game and was second in rebounding at 7.1 rpg. Henry also paced the America East Conference in steals with 87, and was named the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season.
“I’m really excited that the coaches picked us No. 1 in the preseason poll, especially since we were picked ninth as freshmen,” said Henry. “Coach Abe’s system really paid off for us last year. I don’t think that anyone picked us to win the conference. The only big difference between last year’s team and this year’s team is experience. We have a lot of players back. I know we have targets on our backs, and no team will take us lightly. We will be mentally tougher than we were last year, because we know what it’s all about.”
Forster, a walk-on as a freshman, has been a dynamic force on the boards, leading the America East Conference in rebounding for three straight seasons. An outstanding performer in the classroom, as well, Forster also led the Great Danes in blocked shots with 37, to go along with 8.7 points per game.
“Last year, we worked crazy hard, and we found out that hard work definitely does pay off,” she said. “Our goal is definitely to go back to the NCAAs. We don’t want to be disappointed as seniors finishing our careers.”
Lowrie returns as the team’s top three-point marksman with 55 treys. Sarah Royals, a back-up tempo-changer last year, will fight for the starting point guard position vacated by the graduation of Casandra Callaway (10.8 ppg).
Another force for the Great Danes will be 6-foot-8 sophomore center Megan Craig, a native of New Zealand. The tallest player in UAlbany women’s basketball history was a dominating player in short spurts, as she averaged 4.6 points and 2.5 rebounds per game. But as her stamina improved, she gave the Great Danes quite a lift. Craig scored 19 points on 9-for-11 shooting from the floor against Binghamton. At times, she was unstoppable in the paint.
“Megan is disruptive for all the teams in our league,” said Abrahamson-Henderson. “They just can’t guard her.”
The top two newcomers are junior transfer Tammy Phillip, from Central Arizona, and 6-1 freshman Shereesha Richards, from Atlantic Christian in Oceanview, N.J. “Shereesha is a very explosive player who has even more bounce than Julie on the boards,” said Abrahamson-Henderson. “And Tammy has plenty of experience. She’s the kind of player who can do a lot of what Ebone Henry does for us.”
The Great Danes open the season against Fordham on the back end of a men’s/women’s double-header Friday night at SEFCU Arena.
Friday — FORDHAM, 8:30; 13 — LONG ISLAND, 7; 18 — at Western Michigan, 2; 21 —at Michigan State, 7:30; 24 — DARTMOUTH, 2; Nov. 28 — NJIT, 7.
1 — vs. Siena at Times Union Center, 5; 5 — at La Salle, 7; 8 — at Canisius, 2; 15 — at Delaware State in Beach Classic, 5; 20 — vs. Sam Houston State at Long Beach, Calif., 7; 21 — vs. Long Beach State or Canisius at Long Beach, Calif., TBA.
2 — at UMBC, 7; 5 — at Binghamton, 2; 12 — MAINE, 5; 16 — NEW HAMPSHIRE, 12; 19 — HARTFORD, 2; 23 — at Boston University, 7; 26 — VERMONT, 5; 30 — at Stony Brook, 7.
2 — BINGHAMTON, 5; 6 — UMBC, 7; 9 — at Maine, 2; 17 — at Hartford, 2; 21 — BOSTON UNIVERSITY, 7; 24 — at Vermont, 2; 27 — at New Hampshire, 7.
2 — STONY BROOK, 2.
Home games in CAPS.