MANSFIELD - If what Mansfield University women's basketball head coach Alison Tagliaferri has seen from her squad in the early going translates into wins, the Lady Mountaineers appear to be prepared to surpass their season total of five victories from the 2013-14 season.
"I think we have a lot more basketball talent this year as far as athleticism, quickness and ability are concerned," said Tagliaferri. "Right now we are trying to get everybody on the same page as far as expectation levels are concerned. Right now some of the players, although they have a lot of talent, have come from high school programs where they haven't been pushed so right now we are sort of in that not everybody is on the same page stage. When we do some things we show spurts of greatness so it is just a matter of putting those things together on a daily basis to make practice move forward without taking any steps backward."
Injuries are a part of any sport, and Tagliaferri and assistant Bridget Paluga are having to deal with some of those in the preseason.
"Right now we have a couple of injuries that are holding us back numbers-wise," said Tagliaferri. "We have a solid group of kids returning this year with three or four starters in the mix. We brought in a point guard from Harrisburg High School in Tianna Jackson who brings to the table what we lacked in a point guard last year."
As for the returning players, Jenna Matter is back for her senior season.
"Jenna Matter is our senior center who led the team in scoring and rebounding last year," said Tagliaferri. "Katie Fitzpatrick is a sophomore who was second on the team scoring and Alyssa DeRichie and Megan McSwain all bring starter experience back from last season. As for those four, I am looking for them to do some big things for us this year."
Tagged with the interim label until she was named as the official head coach of the Mansfield women's program, Tagliaferri indicated that until that was removed from her title, recruiting had some bumps in the road.
"It was a challenge recruiting for the majority of the year with the interim title, for sure, but I am very pleased with what we have coming in this year," Tagliaferri said. "We were also able to pick up some pieces to our puzzle for the following year with a few redshirts and some transfers who will be able to practice this year, but will not be able to play until next year. Overall, I am happy with what we were able to get."
So who are some of these puzzle pieces for the 2013-14 Lady Mounties?
"Maria Kelleher is a local shooting guard from Lewisburg and she should make an immediate impact as far as filling Kayla Espigh's shoes," said Tagliaferri. "She is a great three-point shooter and right now, she is working on her defensive skills. Jackson will definitely be a key factor, Bridget Carney is a sophomore who will be coming back and has put in a lot of work this summer, Devon Tennant is another post player who will probably compete for some playing time, Traci Bethea is another player from New Jersey who will compete for playing time and then we have a couple of walk-ons in Kayla Allen from Jersey Shore and Molly Wood from Mansfield who has been working real hard and has already shown a lot of improvement."
Although the interim tag was with her until she was named head coach on April 18, Tagliaferri felt that although it was there, it really didn't keep her from doing the things she needed to do to guide the MU program.
"I tried to carry myself as though it wasn't there because you have to," she said. "If you don't do that, you aren't going to get through to the kids on your team and to the recruits if you don't walk the walk so to speak. Obviously I am very honored and excited to be here and to have this position permanently and I am very much looking forward to our recruiting class for 2014. Just that having that "interim" title gone is going to be a key factor in getting some great recruits in here. We have some here now that we are excited about and hopefully we will be able to get a few more early signings."
As for the PSAC conference, Tagliaferri knows how tough the road can be at times. She has been there and done that.
"We added two quality programs this year in Pitt-Johnstown and Seton Hill," Tagliaferri said. "Those two schools have a lot of scholarship dollars available. Lock Haven is a program that has been very talented over the past several years and they play in a very tough western division of the conference with a lot of nationally-ranked teams. With the amount of talent that graduated from the conference last year I think the parity between the teams is much closer this year. If you look across the board at the number of people the teams have lost, I think it opens it up quite a bit for many teams to compete."
All teams have goals they set at the beginning of the season, and the Lady Mountaineers are no different in that aspect of their program.
"We won five games last year so obviously there is no way for us to go but up," said Tagliaferri. "Our non-conference games are also tough but we would love to shoot for and win at least 10-12 games this season. I think if we get our minds together and bring it to practice every day that we can absolutely fight for that last playoff spot in the East and that hasn't been done here since 2007. Having been a player here who was a part of it the first time we ever made the playoffs, I just want these girls to have the same experience. They are going to have to realize the amount of work it takes to achieve something like that, but I really don't see why we can't compete for that last spot."