LOUDONVILLE — Practice went so well Wednesday, Siena College women’s basketball head coach Ali Jaques called for an early end to the session as a reward for her team.
Her players declined, leaving their coach even happier with the way the day went.
“They all stuck around for an extra 45 minutes and got shots up,” Jaques said.
After a rocky non-conference season during which the Saints only once won consecutive games, Siena has started MAAC play with an inspired pair of games and a renewed sense of optimism. Siena won 84-57 on the road against Saint Peter’s before topping Iona 59-47 at home, leaving the Saints at 2-0 in conference play for the first time since the 2015-16 season.
“Everyone’s feeling good in practice and I think it just pushes us to keep going forward and keep building on that momentum,” Siena junior Maddie Sims said.
“We just have to keep working on ourselves and let the chips fall where they may,” Jaques said.
Since the Saints returned to campus after Christmas, that has been the guiding ethos for them. With no contests between their loss in their Dec. 21 non-conference finale against Hofstra and their Jan. 4 MAAC opener at Saint Peter’s, the Saints used their break from game action to practice twice per day to fine-tune their struggling offense.
“We came back from Christmas and I think it was a great week for us,” Sims said. “Coach pushed us really hard, but it was really good for everyone. Everybody built a lot of confidence.”
At the same time, Siena was getting healthier after dealing with a number of injuries during the season’s first couple months. With more personnel available, Siena has shifted to smaller lineups and is scoring with more ease after only registering 60-plus points in four of its 11 non-conference games.
“We’ve put our best team on the floor to start and we’ve gotten off to better starts,” Jaques said. “We’re more confident in our offense.”
The schedule has helped, too. Siena, which is 6-7 overall, started MAAC play with games against programs that have gone a combined 6-20 and next plays Friday against 2-11 Manhattan.
“We’re going to have to keep fighting,” Siena redshirt senior Joella Gibson said. “Other teams are going to start coming at us hard, so we just have to respond.”
Jaques is confident the Saints will do that.
“These guys are fun to coach right now,” Jaques said.
On the season, Siena has only made 63.0 percent of its foul shots.
In its win against Iona, though, Siena was 27 of 29 from the foul line. Jaques credited that 93.1 percent shooting effort to her players’ extra effort on the practice court.
“The way we shot the ball at the free-throw line the other night wasn’t a fluke,” Jaques said. “We’ve really worked on it, and when you start to see players have success by doing extra things — getting in the gym, spending more time together — that can start to snowball in a really positive direction, so we have to keep it going that way.”
READY TO GO
Friday’s home game vs. Manhattan features an 11 a.m. tipoff as part of a “Kids Day” event in which students from area schools will attend the game.
“They bring a lot of energy and a lot of loud noise,” Sims said.
To prepare for an 11 a.m. tipoff, Siena has started practices at 9 a.m. this week. Even before that, Jaques said her team’s double sessions after its brief holiday break required her players to wake up earlier than most college students on break from classes.
“I’ve gotten them up at 9 every day,” Jaques said.