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Women's basketball ready to come back strong

<p>Guard Lauren Tolson faces off against a Fordham defender.</p>

Guard Lauren Tolson faces off against a Fordham defender.

After a disappointing 2013-14 season that was plagued by injuries, Richmond’s women’s basketball team hopes to win the A-10 conference with strength and depth this season.

The Spiders have spent the offseason building strength. Head coach Michael Shafer put emphasis on his team’s work in the weight room this summer. Last season’s squad was thin in size, so his goal was for his players to add as much bulk as possible.

Throughout the first couple weeks of practice, Shafer has already seen his players show more confidence because of the strength they gained, he said.

Outside of the weight room, the players’ on-court workouts have focused on the fundamentals. “We focused on details, small fundamentals, footwork. Things that maybe can be taken for granted,” Shafer said. “But those things are the difference between winning and losing.”

Injuries were a constant menace for the Spiders last season. The team was forced to play with about seven players at the end of the season, which proved to be detrimental to its success. It was tough for those players to win games in crucial moments because they were exhausted at the end of games, and there was nobody to substitute in for them.

Shafer noted the benefits of playing games last season with so few players. “In a strange way, it was almost beneficial,” Shafer said. The team needed its few healthy players to play solid basketball, and they did just that," Shafer said.

Janelle Hubbard was one of those players who played minimal minutes in the beginning of the season but found herself playing almost entire games by the end. Shafer said he felt it had made his team better because the young players now have more experience.

One of the players who suffered an injury was freshman standout Olivia Healy. In 19 games, she scored 234 points, an average of more than 12 points per game. She was on pace for a record-breaking year before her season was cut short by a knee injury. Healy is almost fully healthy now and has recently begun practicing full time.

“It was a scary feeling coming back because I haven’t had the contact,” Healy said. “My wind is good but the physical part is scary.” Shafer said he expected Healy to be 100 percent by the first game.

The leader of the Spiders is Genevieve Okoro, a redshirt senior who led the team in rebounds last season. Shafer praised Okoro for her vocal leadership on the court.

“She is very vocal and she understands what we are trying to accomplish, plus she doesn’t mind holding people accountable,” Shafer said. Okoro has had a dominant presence in the paint during her career as a Spider and looks to continue to handle the physical duties of fighting for rebounds this season.

Shafer added five freshmen to his roster this year. He expects some of these young women to play significant minutes early in the season, he said. “We have two 6’4" kids in Rennie Harrison and Karleigh Wike who will play because we need size,” Shafer said. They will accompany the inside players, Liz Brown, Yazmean Burgess and Okoro.

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The other freshman will have more competition because they play on the perimeter, where the Spiders are stacked in depth.

The season begins against Providence on Nov. 14 in the Robins Center. The A-10 conference predicted the Spiders to finish sixth. Shafer said he could not argue the prediction because of his team’s 14-16 record last season. The team will certainly be looking to prove that it is a top competitor in the conference.

Contact reporter Justin Williamson at justin.williamson@richmond.edu

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