NORTHFIELD — The Norwich University women’s basketball team hits the court in 2018 looking to earn the program’s sixth straight Great Northeast Athletic Conference playoff berth in the last 10 years under coach Mark Zacher.
Last year, the Cadets made the playoffs and were eliminated in the quarterfinals by Emmanuel. Zacher holds a 134-90 career record, including 62 wins over conference opponents.
Norwich lost some key players to graduation, including Second Team All-Conference point guard Shyann Josler. Norwich graduated two other important contributors in Arianna Harrison and Paige McNally. The Cadets will look in a variety of places within this year’s group to help fill the gaps in production left by those three.
“Obviously the nature of college basketball is that every year is a brand new team,” Zacher said. “Veteran players graduate and new freshmen step in. 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.”
The mantle of leadership falls onto senior captains Vanessa Fleury, Emily Oliver and Naomi Rinaldo. Fleury returns as the Cadets’ main force in the paint and the primary team captain after starting 21 games last year. 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.
Oliver started all 26 games during her junior season, averaging 6.7 points and 4.2 rebounds per contest. 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.
Rinaldo provided firepower from off the bench for the Cadets a year ago and will look to make the next step forward this season. After missing the first three games last year due to injury, Rinaldo appeared in all of the remaining 23 games. In those games, she recorded at least one assist and one rebound 11 times and pulled down a rebound in all but six appearances. She totaled 67 points, 23 rebounds and 13 steals in 234 minutes.
The trio will be joined by classmate Jenna Alexander, who provides steady leadership from off the bench. She saw action in 22 games last year, recording a total of 16 points and 24 rebounds in 117 minutes on the floor.
“Our four-member senior class, over the course of their career, has a lot of game experience under their collective belts,” Zacher said. “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. 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, KristieAnn DeSilvio and Katie Dixon combined for 69 points, 94 rebounds, and 14 assists last year. Riley Bennett turned some heads in her freshman season, carving out a starting role and appearing in all 26 games. She averaged 5.7 points while starting 20 games and averaging 24.5 minutes per contest. She’ll be joined by classmates Kailynne Frederick, Emily Schromm, Caileigh Travers and Julia Vigorito.
“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 said.
This year’s freshmen class features Sandra Carlsten, Mary Casamassa, Belle Magna, Hannah Stitely and Stowe product Hattie Moriarty.
“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 said. “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 Cadets will play a 25-game schedule that includes a trip to the University of Vermont for the second straight year. Norwich will compete at the Smith College Tip-Off Tournament in addition to hosting the annual Ed Hockenbury Classic. The 12-game conference schedule will begin on the road against Johnson & Wales on Jan. 8 and will include a date with GNAC newcomer Colby-Sawyer on Feb. 5
The Cadets will start the season at 1 p.m. Saturday at Plattsburgh State.