After two weeks, three states and five games, Hampton University’s women’s basketball team returned to campus Monday weary, but optimistic about the season ahead.

The Lady Pirates went 3-2, won the Cal State Northridge tournament and continued to define roles and get more comfortable with each other — without the benefit of cell phones (more on that later).

“I feel like it was a good experience,” senior wing Alyssa Bennett said. “It helps to see how we work together as a team. We’re working on our bond and chemistry.”

The next step comes Wednesday evening when Hampton (5-2) hosts American in just its second home game of the season. The Lady Pirates aim for an unprecedented fifth consecutive Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship, and the conference schedule begins Saturday versus Florida A&M.

“This year, the team started off pretty slow, but we’re getting better every week,” said senior guard Nikki Hamilton, who believes that this team is more talented, top to bottom, than last year’s bunch that ran the table in the MEAC.

Head coach David Six isn’t prepared to go there, but he acknowledges that the potential exists.

The Lady Pirates lost to LSU, a victim of one bad stretch in each half. In a loss to UC Santa Barbara, they couldn't practice beforehand, Six said, because the gym wasn't available to accommodate their travel schedule.

"I don't want to make excuses," Six said, "but we're so young and have so many new players, we need the practice."

HU defeated Texas State and at Northridge won a shootout against Utah State, then smothered Santa Clara in the final.

Bennett (21 ppg, 9.6 rpg) has expanded her offensive game, becoming more comfortable inside and out. She ably defends any position from point guard to power forward, but Six has implored her to use her height and athletic ability to take smaller defenders inside and simply shoot over them. She is shooting 51.2 percent from the field.

Hamilton (12.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 6.1 apg) scores when necessary — witness her 27 points versus LSU in the first game of the road trip — but Six has asked her to be more leader and facilitator, particularly as injured and younger teammates earn playing time.

Through the first five games, Hamilton had more turnovers (26) than assists (20). But in the Cal Northridge tournament, in wins against Utah State and Santa Clara, she totaled 23 assists and five turnovers.

“She played more like the Nikki at the end of last season,” Six said.

The Lady Pirates’ third cog so far has been Malia Tate-DeFreitas. The 5-8 freshman guard from Harrisburg, Pa., hit the ground scoring. She averages 21 points per game and totaled 61 in the Northridge tournament, with 36 versus Utah State in one semifinal.

“She does a lot of freshman things, but she can flat score,” Six said. “I’ve never had a player like her at this stage of her career.”

Tate-DeFreitas has attempted more shots than anybody else, which hasn’t been an issue among the veterans.

“That’s what we need,” Bennett said. “She’s a scorer, so that’s what we expect. She’s getting more comfortable and confident playing at this level.”

Hampton doesn’t defend nearly as well as last year’s team, or to Six’s satisfaction. The Lady Pirates’ defensive rotation, away from the ball, is particularly irksome. He likened it to a safety in football focused solely on the quarterback while a tight end runs past him. But he believes that will improve with time.

“We need better rotation,” Bennett said. “It’s not like we’re terrible, but we can get better.”

Improved communication should improve the defense. That’s in part why Six scheduled the lengthy road trip, and why he confiscates the players’ cell phones on road trips.

He hoped that the travel and time together would develop bonding and team chemistry. Taking their phones forces them to talk to each other, face-to-face.

Six said that prohibiting cell phone use on road trips goes back to his high school coaching days, when he took his team in 2007 to play a tournament in New York City. Walking through LaGuardia Airport, he said that he was struck by how many people, particularly young people, had their heads down working cell phones and hand-held devices.

For all of their benefits, he believes that cell phones and personal electronics inhibit interpersonal contact. Communications and those kinds of connections are crucial in team building.

“I’m not saying that chemistry isn’t important on the men’s side,” Six said, “but with women, it’s paramount. If women don’t get along, you’ve got problems.”

Hamilton said the trip was probably the longest she's gone without her cell phone, matching a similar road trip two years ago. Was she OK with it?

"We have to be OK with it," she said with a smile. "That's the rules."