The women's basketball team goes into Saturday's game against Towson University (6-1) at the Robins Center undefeated. Staying unbeaten, they will have to overcome the early sluggishness that defined the first half of last week's defeat of The College of William & Mary.
Coach Michael Shafer responded to some questions via e-mail.
Q: Against William and Mary, the team started out very slowly. Towson is a tough opponent. What adjustments do you need to make to get control of the game early?
A: Against William and Mary, we were bobbling balls, weren't aware of the shot clock, throwing passes at people's feet. We just were not mentally focused. Even though Towson is an excellent team, we will not change anything that we have done all year in preparation for Towson. I think basketball players like routine, so we will not vary our game prep much.
Q: Now that your team is 8-0, the best in the Atlantic 10 conference, does that change anything? Will other teams approach you any differently? Does it add pressure come game-time?
A: I am not sure what other teams will do or feel when playing us. We really don't talk about our record, we talk about being the best we can be, win or lose. If we give our best effort and someone bests us, then we should congratulate them because they put forth a great effort. If we do not give our best effort, and we lose, then that's different. That means we let someone have what we have, and I'm not okay with that.
I don't think anyone is feeling any pressure, we are just enjoying playing hard and playing together. I believe that if you play that way, you can put the focus where it needs to be, which is doing your very best.
Q: The team is getting big contributions from young players like Brittani Shells, Nikita Thomas and Samantha Bilney. That must be encouraging. What do the young players have to learn?
A: We are still a young basketball team in terms of age, but they are certainly not young in terms of the experience and the minutes they have played. Other than the freshmen, we have several players who are "young" in class, but have logged a lot of court time. I am excited about the future -- meaning tomorrow and on. What really excited me is that we are going to have these players around for a while, and they have more to bring to the table.
The young players need to understand that this is a much longer season than high school and that it takes a great deal of mental and physical energy to stay on task. The day you relax is the day that someone betters you. I believe our freshmen have done a pretty good job of not caving into to fatigue yet.
Q: This time last season you were 5-5. What changed?
A: A couple of things changed. The first is the schedule. Last year we played one of the 20 toughest non conference schedules in America. We have not played as tough a schedule this year, though we have played some very good teams -- particularly at Chattanooga, an NCAA tournament team last year, and Virginia Commonwealth University.
"The other thing that has changed: The players grew tired of not experiencing success. The upperclassmen have been through a lot -- injuries, tough losses, a tough schedule -- and it is through all of that, I hope, that they have been able to dig down and not take anything for granted. They have truly earned all that they are getting now. As for the freshmen --I said it before they got here -- we signed four competitors. They're four ladies who are accustomed to winning. Three had won back-to-back state championships in high school. There is no substitute for the experience of success."
Contact staff writer David Larter at email@example.com