Norwich University women’s basketball player Riley Bennett attempts to make a pass during a game in Northfield.

NORTHFIELD – The Norwich University women’s basketball team is primed to hit the hardcourt for the 2019-20 season. The Cadets will tip off the season on the road against intrastate rival Castleton University on Saturday.

This will be the 45th season for the women’s basketball program and the 11th under coach Mark Zacher. He boasts a 142-122 career record after his teams made eight post-season appearances and two trips to the Great Northeast Athletic Conference Championship.

Last year’s squad finished with an 8-16 overall record and a 3-9 mark in the GNAC. It was a developmental year for the Cadets as several underclassmen made significant contributions. Despite some inexperience, last year’s team competed hard and suffered seven losses by 10 points or less.

Norwich will return 11 players from last year’s team, including captain KristieAnn DeSilvio and her senior classmate Sara Bradley. The team will welcome back senior post player Katie Dixon, who missed last year due to an injury. The seniors are supported with a solid cast of juniors in Riley Bennett, Kailynne Frederick, Emily Schromm, Caileigh Travers and Julia Vigorito. Sophomores Sandra Carlsten, Hattie Moriarty and Hannah Stitely will be asked to step up their games this year after adjusting to the speed and physicality of the college game last season.

Four freshmen and two upperclassmen are new to the team. Freshmen Katelyn DeSilvio, Brittany Graham, Alexis Matte and Jade Wimbish will join junior Madison Bettis and senior Brianna Dawson as the newcomers. With the team’s top three scorers from 2018-19 not returning this year, the Cadets will rely on added contributions from everyone.

Bennett tallied 8.5 points per game last winter and isn’t afraid to throw up 3-point attempts. Frederick offers a different style of play, excelling down low while averaging 5.3 points per game last season.

“We have been pleased with the progress we have made as a team throughout our preseason,” Zacher said. “We will have several players stepping into expanded roles this season and learning to adjust to their new responsibilities. We anticipate our performance and success will truly be a team effort with any number or combination of players, new and returning, taking prominent roles. We also expect those leaders and their impact might change from game-to-game as we progress and the needs of our team change and develop.”

The strength of this year’s team should be its depth. The Cadets have multiple players at each position who can contribute to creating lineup diversity.

“We are looking to involve a large proportion of our roster in our game plan,” Zacher said. “We feel comfortable playing different combinations and going deep into our lineup while still maintaining the same level of execution, production and performance.”

Last season’s 3-9 record in conference play resulted in a 10th-place finish. The preseason poll released this week predicted an incremental improvement for the Cadets with a ninth-place finish. The GNAC schedule will once again be a challenge due to the talent level across the league.

“In my time at Norwich, I have witnessed the GNAC become one of the most competitive Division III conferences in the region,” Zacher said. “There is some true parity within the conference and a feeling that on any given night any team is capable of winning. This year will be no exception and competition may become even more intense.”

The conference slate will begin Jan. 11 with a game at Saint Joseph’s (Maine). The Cadets will host preseason favorite Emmanuel on Jan. 21. Norwich will host the Ed Hockenberry Classic from Dec. 6-7. Coast Guard, University of Maine-Presque Isle and Wellesley will also take part in the early-season tourney.

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