By Christian Heimall, Staff Writer
"I said to the underclassmen, ‘you get them next year'," said then senior Sam Brigham after her Hofstra women's basketball career was ended by Colonial Athletic Association rival VCU in the WNIT. "Make them pay next year."
Next year is here as the Pride looks to build on an impressive 20 win season last year.
The graduation of Brigham and center Jess Fuller create giant holes in the Pride's lineup. Fuller left the program as the career leader in blocked shots and one of the best defenders in recent memory. The size of the 6'5" center will obviously be the toughest to replace but it is possible. Brigham showed a tenacity and drive that embodies the Pride. Her leadership and willingness to never say die should stay with the team, but it is still a question as to who will fill her captain status.
For the last few years head coach Krista Kilburn-Steveskey has had numerous changes on her staff. This year however, there is only one returning assistant in Jessica Manetti. Faisal Kahn left for personal reason while Associate head coach Danielle Santos (who was coach by Kilburn-Steveskey in high school) took a similar position at Illinois State. Bill Ferrara from Central Michigan and Tanika Price who most recently was at Hartford will replace them. Ferrara brings an offensive set that ranked in the top 40 of the nation each of the last two seasons. It is fast-paced and when operated correctly, will put a lot of pressure on any opponent. Price brings a fountain of knowledge and experience in postseason play (four straight appearances at Hartford) that will only benefit this young team.
That high-octane offense has to be run smoothly by redshirt junior Candice Bellocchio. The loss of Brigham puts more pressure on the Staten Island native to be a confident leader who makes the right decisions. The knock on her has always been the turnovers; she will have to cut down on those for this team to run on all cylinders.
Nicole Capurso returns after a great sophomore season that saw her mature into a much more consistent shooter late in the year. The shooting guard also developed the ability to drive to the basket and score on the run. Capurso has honed her three-point shooting and will become a deadly portion of the offense if she continues to improve her consistency.
Aamira Terry shows the same passion and grit that Brigham did and it placed her in the starting lineup. Terry's aggressive defense anchors her as a key member of the Pride rotation and with the loss of Fuller, may make her more valuable against the rest of the CAA.
Asia Jenkins has not seen as much time as she probably expected after transferring from Cincinnati. That is not to say that she does not have the potential, we just have yet to see it. Jenkins has a smooth shot but it seems to be shot selection that hinders her ability to make a large impact on the stat sheet. With a deep backcourt, she will have to prove that ability to get on the court.
There are four new additions to the backcourt this season, Jackie Michel (walk-on), Kate Loper & Annie Payton (freshman) and Jael Pena (junior transfer). Loper and Payton have a lot of potential this year. Loper will be a nice respite for Capurso from beyond the arc and Payton is very likely to be key in the frontcourt as a "tweener" type. Pena transferred from Chicago State in the spring and will not be eligible until after the fall semester is done. Her speed and ability to run the point will push Bellocchio.
The frontcourt is going to be looked at with much scrutiny because of the loss of Fuller. But, lest we forget, there is a sensational sophomore returning in Shante Evans. The West Chester, PA native was the first player to lead the Pride in rebounding and scoring since Molly Sito (1992-93). She will be the go-to player down low but her size may not be able to match-up with forwards like Elena Delle-Donne at Delaware or Lauren Jiminez at James Madison. The key here will be the help from the rest of the team.
Marie Malone will bear the brunt of the load to replace Fuller. Her size is what makes her a viable candidate to take her place and her athleticism allows for a more active defender in the paint against the fast offensive sets in the CAA. The question will be if she can bring the same intensity as Fuller did on the defensive end all season long.
Isoken Uzamare is back as one of only two seniors this year (Terry is the other). A player who has seen extremely limited time will be needed this year if Evans and Malone are in foul trouble. Her attitude is great for the team; we are still waiting for her skill set to match the passion of her style.
Anma Onyeuku is the freshman of the bunch. It will be interesting to see how quickly she contributes and what she brings to the table. She comes from the same high school as Kilburn-Steveskey in Georgia so you know the type of player you are getting already, gritty and passionate.
Candace Bond could be the key to this season. In her freshman year she was an incredible defender both on the perimeter and down low in the paint. Her quick hands and aggressive play make her a headache for any and all opposing players. Bond's scoring ability is an added bonus but it is the tenacity on defense that makes her one of the more underrated players in the CAA.