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The new head coach for women’s basketball has the opportunity to start a new era for the team.
Tom McConnell, who replaced Jeff Dow, the former head coach, in June, arrived at Indiana University of Pennsylvania after two seasons as an assistant coach with the Old Dominion University Lady Monarchs, a Division 1 school that competes in the Colonial Athletic Association.
During his time at ODU, the Lady Monarchs appeared in the postseason in both of his years there. The Lady Monarchs earned a trip to the women’s National Invitation Tournament in 2012-13 with a record of 30-33.
The Crimson Hawks are coming off a successful year themselves. The team earned a 23-9 record and finished third in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division.IUP’s postseason run ended in the Atlantic Regional at the hands of West Division rival Gannon University. Soon after, head coach Jeff Dow’s contract was not renewed, and in came McConnell.
After Dow’s exit, the team, Lindsay Stamp (junior, criminal justice) said, got stronger.
“We came together,” Stamp said. “We were doing things on our own and made the best of it.”
Melanie Todd (senior, sports administration) added that the team is “looking to the present and future.”
Members of the team said the adjustment to McConnell’s style has been smooth.
“I think it’s been pretty smooth,” Todd said. “We couldn’t have asked for a better staff.”
Vanderhoof, British Columbia, native Jessica Wallace, (senior, athletic training), said the adjustment has been positive because of the team’s togetherness.
“We only lost one player from last year in Sarah, but I think being together like we have has made the transition smoother,” Wallace said. “It’s been pretty positive.”
McConnell said the team is in the midst of learning each other.
“Coming out of the gate they were trying to find each other; it takes a while to become a team and learn everyone’s strengths so it is new for everybody,” McConnell said.
Under McConnell, the Crimson Hawks will be playing an up-tempo style of basketball, pushing the pace of the game a lot more than they have in the past.
“He wants a good, quality shot in six seconds,” guard Talen Watson (senior, sports administration) said. “He just wants to get at you and run.”
Stamp said McConnell’s style of play is better suited for the team.
“I’m excited for it,” Stamp said. “We have a lot people on this team that have the ability to score this year, so it will be more spread out.”
McConnell said he hopes the identity of the team is focused on defense and ball management.
“No matter what you do, it comes down to taking care of the basketball and taking good shots,” McConnell said. “Our identity, I hope, is going to be on the defensive end.”
The Crimson Hawks, along with rival California University of Pennsylvania, were picked to finish third in the West Division in the preseason poll. McConnell said their ranking speaks to the respect the PSAC gives to IUP.
“I think it speaks to the returning players that we have,” McConnell said. “For us, I think people look at IUP women’s basketball and see a good returning nucleus of players who have had a good level of success.”
Depth is something the 2013-14 Crimson Hawks team has an abundance of. The team lost one senior in Sarah Pastorek, and returned the majority of the team.
“We have so many players that can contribute,” Stamp said.
Looking to get quality game experience against another opponent, the Crimson Hawks faced the University of Pittsburgh women’s basketball team in a scrimmage Monday at the Peterson Events Center.
The exhibition against Pittsburgh, McConnell said, was “a good learning experience.”
“We always talk around here about high fives and floor burns; did we compete or did we have energy,” McConnell said. “We thought we were very competitive. We came out of it learning some things.”
IUP brought in two newcomers during the summer – Lexi Carpenter (sophomore, criminology) a transfer from Division I Dayton University, and Mackenzie Livingston (freshman, math and science) are now in the fold.
McConnell said Carpenter would not see playing time due to a thumb injury and because of her transfer status.
“We’re excited she’s here and that she is in the program,” McConnell said. “I think Crimson Hawks fans are really going to enjoy seeing her play.”
IUP will have tough competition in the PSAC West.
Gannon is returning all but one player from the 2012-13 squad.
The Golden Knight big three, including 3-point specialist Brittany Batts, paint presence Nettie Blake and Jen Papich, all return.
Batts, Blake and Papich represent three of the five players on the preseason All-PSAC West team.
Cal U also returns a significant portion of its starting five.
Australian guards Emma Mahady and Kate Seebohm return as well as guard and forward Irina Kukolj and Russian forward Elena Antonenko.
“I have great respect for the PSAC,” McConnell said. “There are no easy ones; you’re going to have to earn everything you get, night in and night out, in this conference.”
IUP’s Stamp is included in on the First Team PSAC-West first team. She averaged 11 points per game for the Crimson Hawks and led the team in total blocks with 26.
IUP will begin the regular season with a three-game home stand. The Crimson Hawks host Bluefield State, Fairmont State and PSAC newcomer the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown.