Four years ago, University at Albany’s Ebone Henry, Julie Forster and Keyana Williams were members of one of the worst teams in the program’s Division I women’s basketball history.
Now, along with fellow senior Lindsey Lowrie, who joined them a year later, these Great Danes are the heart and soul of what could be UAlbany’s finest team ever.
Top-seeded UAlbany, which won its first regular-season title in the Division I era and became only the seventh team in America East Conference history to complete an unbeaten league season, earned an automatic berth in the semifinals Sunday at 1 when eighth-seeded Maine opted not to participate in the America East Conference Women’s Basketball Championship because of the lingering effects from a team bus accident near Boston last week. The bus driver was seriously injured, and one of the players broke her hand in the accident.
The Great Danes went 16-0 during the regular season and compiled a 25-3 overall record. It’s a far cry from their 7-25 record when this year’s seniors were just rookies.
Now, with Maine pulling out, the defending conference tournament champions need just two more victories to repeat and earn their second straight NCAA tournament appearance.
“From the first couple of days last summer, we knew we had something special,” said Williams. “We had a strong group of freshmen with a lot of talent joining us, and we already knew what it takes to win. We have the worth ethic and the leadership. The great thing is that we four seniors play four different positions, and we could help all the younger players at each position.
“Last year, we were underdogs the whole way, and we would love to be underdogs again,” said Williams with a grin. “But we know that everyone expects us to win again. But the good thing is that we also know that it’s not over yet. We haven’t done anything yet, really. We still have a lot more left to accomplish.”
Williams admitted that going undefeated in the regular season was just one of the Great Danes’ lofty goals for this season.
“Why not aim high?” she said.
Forster, the program’s all-time leading rebounder and a 1,000-point scorer, noted that keeping the team’s goals small and immediate helped in its successful run.
“There is a little pressure with repeating this year, I guess, but we use that pressure as another motivation,” she said. “The key is not looking at the big picture. If you look at the big picture, things can look very intimidating. It’s nice to have been in this situation before.”
Henry, the Great Danes’ all-time leading scorer and the conference’s defensive player of the year twice in a row, was named he America East co-Player of the Year.
“As one of our four seniors, I will make sure that we take every game seriously and remain focused,” she said. “All of the seniors remember what it was like to finish on the bottom. We know what it takes to win, because we remember when all we did was lose. I think it also helped us that we also had some close games this season. If we blew everyone out by 35 points, we wouldn’t know what to do when the games got close.”
Although the Great Danes did have a few close games to keep them sharp, they were the most dominant team in the conference. They topped the league in scoring (67.4 ppg), points allowed (48.6 pg), field goal percentage (.451), defensive field goal percentage (.327), three-point shooting (.365), rebounding (41.3 pg) and steals (12 pg).
Henry was second in the league in scoring (14.3 ppg), fourth in free-throw shooting (.736), 13th in rebounding (5.2 rpg), fifth in assists (3.3 pg) and second in steals (2.9 pg).
Forster, who led the league in rebounding her first three seasons, was third this year at 8.1 per game.
Lowrie, 16th in scoring at 10.1 ppg, led the league in three-point shooting (.427).
The Great Danes’ bench has also been superb, led by 6-foot-8 sophomore Megan Craig, who averaged 10.5 ppg and 4.8 rpg. Freshman Shereesha Richards, a leading candidate for rookie of the year, contributes 10.1 points and 5.9 rebounds a game.
“We won’t change who we are,” said third-year head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson, who is known for keeping her pedal to the metal. “We don’t look in the rearview mirror. We’re all about making new goals and not talking about the past.
“We haven’t peaked yet. We still have a lot to improve on. We’ve got to box out better, sharpen our press and play better, offensively.”