bigcap,4,mdl IIn her first season, Linda Hill-MacDonald put her system in place and by the second year the team had a better understanding of what its head coach wanted to accomplish. Now entering her third season at the University at Buffalo, the next step is execution.
There is also balance and depth and something the roster was missing a year ago: eight seniors and juniors. Hill-MacDonald hopes to also see a difference in the win column after totaling 20 victories over the last two seasons.
"Can we win more than 10 games?" Hill-MacDonald said. "We certainly showed improvement our first year and we showed improvement in our play last year, but we didn't show improvement in our record. So can we do the things that are necessary to get the wins this year?"
It helps having so much experience returning, led by All-Mid-American Conference candidate Heather Turner, the former Mount Mercy standout.
"They've been through a lot," Hill-MacDonald said of her seniors. "They have some insights that are very valuable to their younger teammates. That will help make a difference for us."
Turner, who has led the MAC in field-goal percentage the last three seasons, is difficult to contain inside and has never shot below a 57.1 percent clip for her career. Last year, as a junior, Turner shot 60.6 percent while averaging 12.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. If the Bulls' exhibition game against Holy Family is an indicator Turner will receive some much needed help in the low post from senior Barbara Homolova, who might be the team's most improved player.
Senior point guard Stephanie Bennett is a savvy playmaker who can also shoot from long range (70 three-pointers in 2006-07). Other three-point threats include junior guard Rachelle Matthys, who drained 49 treys last season, and senior Flynn Pyykkonen, who returns after missing all but seven games last season due to an injury.
Junior Jamie Schiebner is one of several Bulls who can play multiple positions. Schiebner can play in the post, yet is versatile enough to play on the perimeter if need be. So can newcomer Jessica Fortman, who can play both forward spots and shooting guard. Fortman and freshmen Tieara Jones and Bridgette Kendricks are the reason this is the most athletic UB squad in years. Hill-MacDonald's teams are generally strong defensively and this year will be no exception.
Injuries cut into the Bulls' depth last season and they'll be without sophomore Kourtney Brown, who suffered an ACL injury, for the entire season. The sophomore ran the floor well, was difficult to defend and was a good rebounder. Brown's loss will create opportunities for some of the newcomers because the minutes are wide open, but her experience will be missed.
In a league that traditionally has featured solid guard play, ball handling remains Buffalo's biggest question. The Bulls committed an average of 18.7 turnovers a game while shooting 60.2 percent from the free-throw line.
They averaged just 59.5 points last season and scoring could potentially be an issue again this year. They scored only 50 points in the exhibition loss to Holy Family, shot 25.8 percent in the second half and made only three three-pointers. They also had 18 turnovers.
Improved team chemistry, contributions from key seniors and juniors and the new recruits should result in more than 10 wins. Still, unless it cuts down on the turnovers and improves offensively, it's hard to envision UB finishing higher than fourth place in what should be a very strong MAC East Division.