The Shippensburg University women’s basketball team sported seven seniors last season, including a special starting five that each scored more than 1,000-career points — the first time in Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) history that a team had five 1,000-point scorers on the court.
That comes as a blessing and a curse.
SU head coach Kristy Trn is now tasked with trying to fill the spots vacated by valuable seniors, Stephanie Knauer, Morgan Griffith, Logan Snyder, Colleen Young and Lauren Gold after the Raiders went 24-7, and ended the year with an NCAA appearance.
“We graduated seven seniors, all who were very integral to the success of the program the last four or five years, so you can’t expect to replace that,” Trn said. “You can expect to get quality players coming in so that you can build to try and achieve at the same level that the group left as a legacy, but we’re not going to replace those players. We’re working hard and trying to find our own identity out on the court. It’s a process day-to-day.”
The team will strongly rely on senior Victoria Blackburn, who returns from last season, having the most game experience among returners. Blackburn proved herself as a strong facilitator off the bench, and will be counted on to play a bigger role on the floor, and as a team captain.
“The biggest thing we need from Tori is that leadership,” Trn said. “She was able to work as a team captain and with those seniors last year, and now it’s on her shoulders to show the younger players what it’s like out there and what we expect at practice. She’s been doing a very good job with that. Her role is going to change drastically on the floor, coming back with the most experience.”
While challenging, the senior guard is ready to step into the role.
“I’m really excited and thankful for the opportunity,” Blackburn said. “My biggest thing is that I just want to do my best to contribute to help my team win, whether my role is on the court or coming off the bench. That was my thought process last year and it is this year as well. I want to work hard and be a great leader.”
One thing that is especially valuable for the team is that it has retained both Knauer and Gold as assistant coaches this season, which can help keep the team in check, as both players have had the experience of playing in the NCAA Tournament.
“Lauren is a part time coach and Steph is a volunteer coach,” Trn said. “It helps to have them be able to give insight as to what happens out on the floor as well as Tori.”
With an extremely young team, the Raiders will also rely on freshman Ariel Jones who comes out of high school averaging 18.6 points per game at Cedar Crest High School. Other freshmen who could make an impact include Kasey Engle from Tyrone, who scored 1,846 points at Tyrone High School, as well as a solid defender in Lili Benzel, who comes out of Bishop Guilfoyle as a 2,000-point scorer.
The post position will be the one that the Raiders may struggle to replace the most, having lost Griffith and Knauer, who both were conference players of the year in their time at SU. SU will count on a group of forwards including Lindsay Embly and Kristin McGeough. McGeough returns as a senior with NCAA experience, playing in SU’s tournament game last season.
Trn’s expectations for the season are for the Raiders to continue to get better as the season goes on.
“I expect us to grow each and every day,” Trn said. “I think if we can continue to do that, hopefully we will put ourselves in a position to get some extra games at the end of the year, but until we step out on the court against other competition it will be hard to say where we think we will be able to go.”
“I think the effort in preseason has been really great,” Blackburn said. “I think the chemistry we have on and off the court has been fantastic. We act as a family, which has been awesome. Each day we’re working together to try and get better and we’re learning new things, so once we get our feet wet, we’re going to hopefully have a successful season.”
For the Raiders, it will be nice to just start playing, to be able see where the team stacks up against the tough PSAC. The Raiders were picked fifth in the East Division in the PSAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll.
“I think it’s going to be nice,” Trn said. “Our season is extremely long. We spend about a month and a half in preseason and then we start regular practice for another three or four weeks without competition. They’re ready, they are chomping at the bit and it’s about time.”
The Raiders will open the 2017 season with the Wolf’s Bus Line Classic with two matchups against quality opponents. SU will begin the season on Friday at 6 p.m. against Wheeling Jesuit University, before hosting Bowie State on Saturday at 6 p.m. Both games will be at Heiges Field House.