NORTHFIELD, Vt. - The Norwich University women's basketball team hits the court in 2018 looking to earn the program's sixth straight Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) playoff berth in Head Coach Mark Zacher's tenth season in Northfield.
Entering his tenth year, Zacher holds a 134-90 career record including 62 wins over conference opponents. Last year saw him lead the Cadets to the GNAC Playoffs once again, where the Norwich season was ended by the #2 seed Emmanuel College Saints in the quarterfinal stage.
Norwich lost some big pieces to graduation, including last year's Second Team All-Conference point guard Shyann Josler. Norwich graduated two other important pieces in Arianna Harrison and Paige McNally and will look in a variety of places within this year's group to help patch the gaps in production left by those three.
"Obviously, the nature of college basketball is that every year is a brand new team, veteran players graduate and new freshmen step in," Coach Zacher said. "Every year, we lose players who have contributed to our previous success and every year we need other players to step into new and expanded roles to keep us successful."
Vanessa Fleury returns for her senior year as the Cadets' main force in the paint and the team's primary team captain after starting 21 games a year ago. Averaging 6.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per contest, Fleury led the team with 14 blocks and 34 offensive rebounds a year ago. She pulled down a rebound in all but one of her 23 appearances and was named to the GNAC All-Sportsmanship Team after the season.
Oliver will serve as one of this year's co-captains after starting all 26 games during her junior season, averaging 6.7 points and 4.2 rebounds per contest along the way. She was named to the All-Tournament Team for the annual Cadet Classic after averaging 15.5 points and 5.5 rebounds during the tournament. She led all underclassmen last year in points per game, minutes per game, and assists per game, among other categories.
Providing firepower off the bench for the Cadets a year ago, co-captain Naomi Rinaldo will look to make the next step forward in her player career during her senior season. After missing the first three games last year due to injury, Rinaldo appeared in every one of the remaining 23 games. In those 23 games, she recorded at least one assist and one rebound 11 times and pulled down a rebound in all but six appearances. The Coginchaug Regional product totaled 67 points, 23 rebounds, and 13 steals in 234 minutes in her junior campaign and seems poised to improve across the board this year with a full season ahead of her.
The trio will be joined by classmate Jenna Alexander (Castleton, Vt.) who provides steady leadership and minutes off the bench. She saw action in 22 games last year, collecting a total of 16 points and 24 rebounds in 117 minutes on the floor.
When asked about the senior class, Coach Zacher said. "Our four-member senior class, over the course of their career, has a lot of game experience under their collective belts." "This year, we are looking to them to bring their own brand of leadership to our program and to set the tone of our team's culture to carry forward into the future," he continued. "They are, individually and as a group, leaders who have set the pace by their work ethic and example."
The junior class of Sara Bradley (Sunnyside, N.Y.), KristieAnn DeSilvio (Chelmsford, Mass.), and Katie Dixon (Revere, Mass.) will be looked at as well to step up this year. The group combined for 69 points, 94 rebounds, and 14 assists while averaging just under 20 minutes amongst themselves, and will look to evolve as their minutes increase this year.
Riley Bennett (Hopkinton, N.H.) turned some heads in her freshman season, carving out a starting role and appearing in all 26 games. She averaged 5.7 points and 3.0 rebounds per game while starting 20 games and averaging 24.5 minutes per game.
She'll be joined by classmates Kailynne Frederick (Adams, Mass.), Emily Schromm (North Attleboro, Mass.), Caileigh Travers (Valley Cottage, N.Y.), and Julia Vigorito (Malden, Mass.) who all look to carve out minutes in a wide-open rotation to start the year.
"We are looking forward to having our returning sophomores and juniors step up into increased roles on our team and looking toward them to contribute more both on the floor and off," Zacher commented.
This year's freshman class brings five new faces into the fold, as Sandra Carlsten (Bandhagen, Sweden), Mary Casamassa (Wexford, Pa.), Belle Magna (Canton, Conn.), Hattie Moriarty (Stowe, Vt.), and Hannah Stitely (Westminster, Md.) join the Norwich program.
"I would not be surprised to see a number of our freshmen players on the floor and making strong contributions to our team this season," Zacher commented. "The group that we have this year is diverse and talented and each of them brings skills that can greatly benefit our entire team's performance."
The 17-woman roster will embark on a 25-game schedule that includes a trip to Division I University of Vermont for the second straight year, a weekend at the Smith College Tip-Off Tournament, and the hosting of the annual Ed Hockenbury Classic at Norwich. The 12-game conference schedule will begin on the road against Johnson & Wales on January 8th and will include a date with GNAC newcomer Colby-Sawyer on February 5th. The Cadets will run the gauntlet at the tail end of the year, with nine straight conference games to end the year and head into the GNAC Tournament that begins on February 19th.
The regular season will begin across Lake Champlain on November 10th when the Cadets travel to take on the Cardinals of Plattsburgh State at 1:00 PM. They'll return home for the next game, hosting New England College on November 13th, before traveling to take on the University of Vermont on November 15th at 7:00 PM.