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Previous challenges fuel women’s basketball in upcoming season

Previous challenges fuel women’s basketball in upcoming season

Ranked No. 9 in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) preseason poll, the Hofstra women’s basketball team knows it has something to prove. Coming off an 11-19 season in which the Pride qualified for the CAA Tournament and fell in the opening round against No. 10 College of Charleston, they now look to a healthy lineup to open up 2018-19 with a fresh start.

“We are coming off a tough year for us … We were banged. We were bruised,” said head coach Krista Kilburn-Steveskey. “We were fueled by [the fact] that we were probably going to be picked dead last and we were close. We were using that as motivation.”

The Pride is led by senior Boogie Brozoski, who was named to the 2018-19 Preseason All-CAA team. After transferring from the University of Michigan prior to the 2017-18 season, Brozoski made her debut on Jan. 5 and immediately made her presence felt. In 20 games, 15 of which she started at point guard, she led the team with 13 points and 3.9 assists per game in an average of 31.2 minutes of playing time per match.

She recorded her first career double-double in her first start, putting up 16 points and 10 assists against Charleston. Brozoski scored double-digit points in 12 contests and shot 44.3 percent from the field, as well as 78.7 percent from the free throw line.

Along with Brozoski, juniors E’Lexus Davis and Marianne Kalin have helped to serve as leaders to a roster that includes five new freshmen.

“They’ve embraced [the freshmen],” Steveskey said. “These guys are empowering the freshmen. They’re not cutting them down because they’re competing against them … They’re empowering them to be great because they know we need them all to be great. 

Davis played in all 30 games last season for the Pride and started 17. In an average of 25 minutes, she averaged 8.3 points and 2.6 assists per appearance. Last year, she scored a career-high 19 points at Sacred Heart University on Nov. 30 and posted career-bests eight rebounds and nine assists in the season opener against the University of Maryland – Baltimore County.

Kalin also appeared in all 30 games last season, starting 29 and leading the team with 37 blocks. She averaged 8.4 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. With the losses of Ashunae Durant and Aleana Leon, Kalin will prove to be an important part of Hofstra’s ability to rebound the ball and ensure second-chance scoring opportunities. She also recorded her first career double-double with 25 points and 11 rebounds against Iona College on Dec. 7.

Joining the Pride’s three returning starters are Ana Hernandez Gil and Jaylen Hines, who both missed last season due to injury.

Hernandez Gil missed last season after an impressive freshman campaign for the Pride in which she appeared in 27 games and averaged 5.4 points and 1.1 rebounds in 10.7 minutes per game. She ranked in the top three in the CAA in three-point percentage for a portion of the season and finished the year shooting .371 from beyond the arc.

“[Hernandez Gil’s] missed an entire year and almost a half. [She] has to get acclimated to playing the game again and get her confidence back,” Steveskey said. “There are days when her shot is back exactly the way it was; she has a natural knack for that … We’re absolutely 100 percent getting there, and I think she’s buying into that.”

Hines missed out on her freshman campaign due to an injury in July of 2017. In her high school career, she recorded over 1,000 rebounds and averaged 13.5 points. She was named First-Team Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) and Third-Team Washington Post All-Met as a junior and to the Second-Team as a senior.  

“A lot of times with women, you don’t want to hear you’ve gained weight, but here [Hines] comes back and she’s gotten about two inches taller and has probably gained about 15 pounds of solid muscle. Every day, it’s amazing,” Steveskey said. “[I’m] excited about her. She’s definitely made our post play more competitive. She’s smart; she’s a leader.”

Sica Cuzic also suffered a season-ending injury just seven games into last season. Cuzic was a key player off the bench for the Pride, averaging 5.4 points per game. She also pulled down a career-high six rebounds in just 18 minutes while she played in her final game of the season, and will be a key factor for Hofstra this season. Cuzic is another player who the Pride will turn to in order to fill the shoes of Durant, who averaged around 10 boards per game.

Sandra Karsten and Petja Krupenko area also returning to the court for the Pride this season.

As for Hofstra’s newcomers, JaKayla Brown is someone Steveskey is excited to have on the court. Brown joined the Pride after a successful high school run. She was named the McDonald’s All-American nominee as a senior, a three-time All- WCAC selection and the leading scorer in the WCAC. She finished her career with 1,485 points and now joins Hofstra in hopes of continuing to impress in games rather than just in practice.

“[Brown] has just been a defensive stopper and she’s been getting herself on the floor because of her work ethic and her defense,” Steveskey said.

She continued, “[The freshmen] are very competitive … They have a competitive spirit, which is pretty nice. You always want that. You can teach kids how to run plays and do things, but you can’t teach somebody to be a competitor. That was something pretty awesome that we had when we were recruiting them.”

With a full and healthy roster, Hofstra now can allot itself a small margin for error, compared to last season when any mistake could cost them contention for a win. A main focus for the Pride this season is their ability to box out on rebounds, especially on the defensive end.

“We face a lot of people that are going to be really physical and we have to make contact and get those boards,” Steveskey said. “You play good defense and you don’t give them a second opportunity.”

On the offensive side of the game, the Pride hopes to play in a flow that will give everybody their shot selection by communicating and melding as a team.

“It’s probably our biggest strength … They’re just the non-negotiables that you have to communicate, and you absolutely have to talk on the floor,” Steveskey said.

For the sixth straight season, James Madison University was ranked No. 1 above the preseason poll despite Elon University having won the CAA Championship in both of the last two seasons. JMU held a 23-11 record and went 16-2 in conference play. Kamiah Smalls led the Dukes last season with 511 points for an average of 15 per game in 34 starts.

The Dukes, along with teams like Towson University and UNC Wilmington, also have height off the bench that can prove to be daunting for Hofstra’s offense.

“You have some of your usual suspects and then some of your ones that you can’t sleep on,” Steveskey said. “Drexel always causes you to play a half-court game. In our scrimmage the other day, we were controlling tempo – [I] think we’re going to be better in that.”

The bar is set high for this Hofstra team, but Steveskey was hesitant to say exactly how high they can go. The team needs to prove what they can do on the floor, and how well they continue to receive their coaches’ advice is a big part of that.

“Can we defend? Can we be really good at man-to-man, press and have a medley of different things to take people off their game? [We need to] share that basketball and read that defense,” Steveskey said. “I’m giving them a lot of freedom this year. With that being said, you have to see if they’re overplaying.”

Hofstra’s season tips off on Tuesday, Nov. 6, against Iona University at 7 p.m. at the David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex and will play a back-to-back doubleheader with the men’s basketball team on Nov. 9 beginning at 5 p.m.

Photo Courtesy of Cam Keough / The Hofstra Chronicle

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