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Terriers, Blackbirds embrace fresh starts

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Two ladies’ college hoops squads are embracing change.

St. Francis College women’s basketball team is starting over after a season for the history books last year, and Long Island University is hoping not to repeat past mistakes.

The St. Francis Terriers won the program’s first Northeast Conference title and reached the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament — then they lost five seniors, four of whom were starters.

In the preseason, conference coaches picked the squad to finish ninth out of 10 teams. For the squad to build on last season, a new nucleus must emerge, and St. Francis coach John Thurston said he’s eager to take on the task at hand.

“Having a new team and new players is one of the great challenges of coaching,” he said. “The last couple of years, they really didn’t need me at practice. They probably didn’t want me at practice. The probably could have practice themselves. Now I have to put so much more thought into it.”

He will rely heavily on senior guard Leah Fechko, who averaged 9.9 points per game and shot 35.2 percent from behind the arc last year. Thurston knows exactly what he will get from her.

“Leah is a underrated shooter because that is not her main role,” he said. “Leah is what I call a game shooter. The bigger the game, the tighter the game, the better she shoots the ball.”

The Terriers are also counting on an improved season from sophomore guard Alex Delaney, who is also an excellent shooter. Thurston said she can be one of the best players in the conference, and Fechko said she has seen a major improvements in Delaney.

“I can see how much she has changed since she first came in,” Fechko said. “She has become even more of a leader. You can tell than she has gained confidence.”

Center Cassidy Derda is also expected to contribute along with a contingent of six freshman. The upperclassmen have tried to pass along what it is like to win a title. Doing so, even if a number of key players do not return, can still be an advantage, Thurston said

“The players that were part of it — it gives them a certain amount of confidence that they might not have before,” he said. “They know what it takes to get to that point. They know the thrill of it.”

And Long Island University — also facing a roster shake-up — is aiming for culture change. The Blackbirds have not won more than nine games in any of the last three seasons, and now coach Stephanie Oliver is telling her roster to leave that in the past and believe you it win games.

“At any given time, you can win a basketball game,” Oliver said. “You just need to put your mind to it, work hard, and you are going to be rewarded.”

Her returning roster has no freshman and is stocked with veterans — something that is working to her advantage.

Now she’ll look to Shanovie Dove, Brianna Farris, and Shanice Vaughan to shoulder the offensive load, she said.

And the players are ready to change the program’s direction, Dove said.

“We understand that it is a fresh start,” she said. “We don’t need to look back in the past. We want to keep looking forward.”

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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