Talk to Richmond women's basketball coach Michael Shafer about his team this year, and he'll use one word to describe it: young.
Eleven freshmen and sophomores are on this year's team, leaving point guard Abby Oliver as the lone senior. Richmond was picked to finish eighth in the conference and is the youngest team in the Atlantic 10 Conference and 22nd youngest in the nation.
"Not only is it young, we had some injuries last year with our [freshmen] kids that maybe would have played in more games and gotten more experience but didn't," Shafer said. "So we're even younger as sophomores than maybe most teams."
Since the team is young, Oliver was compelled to become the team leader.
"I'm trying to be more of a vocal leader and lead by example because we're going to rely a lot on the younger players and I need to make sure they're ready to go," Oliver said.
Shafer said he had seen a transformation in Oliver, who is 38 points away from reaching 1,000 career points. He said she had always been a leader with her work ethic, but had just recently tried to break away from her soft-spoken personality to become louder on the court.
"Abby's also a competitor and wants to succeed," Shafer said. "So I think eventually, the vocal part is going to win out because she wants to win so bad that she's going to do whatever she has to do."
Oliver, who was second on the team in scoring last year with 14 points per game, will get her first chance to be the on-the-court leader Friday when the Spiders travel to the Naval Academy for its season opener, Shafer said. The Midshipmen won the Patriot League title last year and are expected to finish third in the conference this year, according to the Patriot League preseason coaches poll.
"I know that they're definitely going to be very tough and disciplined," Oliver said. "Our coaches have said that they're not really a transition team, they like to slow it down and run set plays in the half court."
Friday's game will be the first without guard Brittani Shells, who graduated last year. In her career, Shells scored more than 2,000 points and was the focal point of the offense, especially at critical junctures.
Richmond also lost a pair of key supporting players from last year's team in guard Kara Powell and center Crystal Goring. Those three players averaged a combined 33 points per game last year.
"I really think we can have a lot more balanced attack, an attack that will force people to not just focus in on one kid," Shafer said. "We have the ability to have a different kid hurt you each night."
Enjoy what you're reading?
Signup for our newsletter
That depth is being tested right now. Sophomore guard Amber Nichols is out for about three weeks with an injury, and sophomore guard Kristina King is questionable for the Navy game after suffering a sprained ankle last weekend.
Long-term injuries have become the norm for the Spiders. The past two years, at least one player has suffered torn knee ligaments that have kept her out for the year. Last year, King suffered an injury that ended her season after 12 games.
Often, those injuries have been the result of bad luck, Shafer said. But that has not stopped him from trying to find ways to prevent them.
"We've been mostly healthy, which is good," he said. "We've tried to urge them to go to the training room and to make sure you're taking care of your body, eating good, getting rest, anything that could wear your body down. We make sure they're taking care of that."
With so many young players, Shafer said that the team would not be playing its best to begin the season. It may not be until February that the team starts to play to its potential, he said.
"I anticipate big strides as we go through the year," Shafer said.
Contact staff writer Andrew Prezioso at email@example.com
Support independent student media
You can make a tax-deductible donation by clicking the button below, which takes you to our secure PayPal account. The page is set up to receive contributions in whatever amount you designate. We look forward to using the money we raise to further our mission of providing honest and accurate information to students, faculty, staff, alumni and others in the general public.Donate Now