Climate change continues with the Siena women’s basketball team.
Known for a pressing defense that second-year head coach Ali Jaques calls the Blizzard, she’s looking forward to seeing how much the Saints have grown into her style now that they have had a season to learn it and incorporate it.
Bolstered by junior captain Tehresa Coles, who led the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in steals last year, and a freshman class that has the tools to fit that style, Siena should be better equipped to run Jaques’ system in 2013-14, which begins Friday against UAlbany at the Times Union Center.
A more challenging climate change will be turning the Saints into a winning program after finishing below .500 for the ninth straight season in 2012-13, at 13-18.
Jaques was pleasantly surprised with how much the players improved during the offseason, which forced her to recalibrate what she believes this team can accomplish.
“Maybe in August I planned on one thing, and now I’m having to switch the plan up a little bit,” Jaques said recently. “For a good reason, because they came back better than I thought they would. I’m starting to figure out that I can have higher expectations for this group than I thought.”
Jaques named Coles, a former Colonie High School star, the captain, and for good reason.
Her role is to harass the ballhandler and disrupt passing lanes before an opponent brings it past halfcourt.
It’s the central component of the Blizzard, but as captain, Coles has also been asked to speak up more.
“Tehresa hasn’t always been the most vocal player that we’ve had,” Jaques said. “She’s led by example. Nobody works as hard as her. But we’ve worked really hard to get her to be more vocal. She’s evolved into that person we want her to be.”
Siena lost just one player to graduation, but Lily Grenci was the Saints’ leading scorer and rebounder.
Replacing her numbers is one thing, but Jaques said Grenci’s leadership qualities were even more important, so it’s important for Coles to assume much more of that responsibility.
In the meantime, Siena looks to be a more versatile team on offense, which has its advantages and pitfalls, Jaques said.
It was useful to have Grenci to rely on, but at least now the Saints will be more difficult to scout because a variety of players will be asked to score.
“We’re not going to live and die by the three, and we’re not going to only get points inside,” Coles said. “It’s balanced.”
“Everything’s different this year,” Jaques said. “There’s a comfort level with what we’re running. We have most of our team back, so there’s some familiarity there.
“Offensively, we’re much more balanced, which I’m excited about, but also nervous about, because every day it’s been somebody different. It’s unnerving, because you don’t know who to depend on.”
Jaques was reluctant to name a starting lineup, but conceded that, besides Coles, the Great Danes are likely to see seniors
Ciara Stewart, Clara Sole Anglada, Kanika Cummings and freshman forward Meghan Donohue to start the game.
That said, two other freshmen — Albany High School graduate Emia Willingham and point guard Brianna Logan, a second cousin to former Siena great Marc Brown — will get time on the court.
“They’re going to play a lot,” Jaques said. “They’ve proven through the scrimmages that they like to score. They get after it, and they’re very coachable.
“They all bring a gym rat mentality. Meghan’s been very consistent for us inside. She’s physical. She finishes, she catches it and lets her performance speak for itself.”
Jaques said that she and her staff recruited freshmen who have the potential to thrive in her defensive scheme, which creates the deeper bench needed to sustain the high-energy approach.
“Our identity as a team is pressing back to our matchup and shifting defenses and having different speeds,” she said. “From a defensive standpoint, I think we’re ahead of where we were last year, especially with Tehresa Coles. She sets the tone for everybody.
“I feel more composed going into this season and knowing what to expect. In having 10 or 11 returning players, I know what I’m getting, but I’ve also been pleasantly surprised by how they’ve improved individually.”
Friday — UAlbany (at Times Union Center), 5 p.m.; 16 — at Fairleigh Dickinson, 2; 22 — vs. Green Bay (at Vermont), 5; 23 — at Vermont or vs. North Florida (at Vermont), 5/7; 26 — SACRED HEART, 7.
3 — at Central Conn. State, 7; 7 — BUFFALO, 2; 9 — at Maryland, 7; 21 — BINGHAMTON, 2; 29 — at Iona, 2; 31 — RIDER, 2.
5 — at Manhattan, 2; 7 — at Marist, 7; 10 — NIAGARA, 5; 13 — MONMOUTH, 11 a.m.; 16 — at Fairfield, 6; 18 — at Quinnipiac, 1; 24 — at Rider, 7; 26 — CANISIUS, 2; 30 — MANHATTAN, 6.
1 — iona, 1; 6 — MARIST, 7; 8 — at Saint Peter’s, 2; 13 — at Niagara, 7; 15 — at Canisius, 2; 20 — QUINNIPIAC, 7; 23 — FAIRFIELD, 2; 28 — SAINT PETER’S, 7.
2 — at Monmouth, 2; 6-10 — MAAC tournament at Springfield, Mass., TBD.
Home teams in CAPS.