Head coach Stefanie Pemper took a long look at the Navy women's basketall roster and her thoughts turned to a certain National Basketball Association team.
Head coach Stefanie Pemper took a long look at the Navy women's basketball roster and her thoughts turned to a certain National Basketball Association team.
The Golden State Warriors set an NBA single-season record for wins last season by using a lineup comprised of three guards and an undersized power forward. Pemper believes the Midshipmen can play a similar style of basketball.
"We're going to play small ball like the Warriors," Pemper said. "We're small, but we're athletic and deep. We're going to try to play fast and force teams to go small to match up."
Now the ninth-year head coach just needs Hannah Fenske, Sarita Condie and Justice Swett to mimic Seth Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
Co-captains Condie and Swett are among four returning starters while Fenske rejoins the squad after missing all of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Senior forward Ashanti Kennedy and junior guard Taylor Dunham are the other returning starters for Navy, which opens the season on Friday night at Wake Forest.
"We've had real good practices with great competition and we're really excited to get the season started and start putting all the pieces together," said Condie, a rare two-year captain at the Naval Academy.
Fenske was slated to start at point guard last season before going down in early November and having season-ending surgery. In 2014-2015, the New Mexico native became just the sixth freshman to lead Navy in assists.
"It was a tough situation, but I took it as a learning experience. I learned a lot from watching last season," said Fenske, who started 27 of 31 games as a plebe.
Fenske was cleared to resume basketball activities in April and played pickup basketball with teammates to re-acclimate to the court. Condie said Fenske brings a high basketball IQ to the team.
While it would seem to make sense for Fenske to join the four returning starters to form the opening night lineup, Pemper said it's not that clear-cut. Sophomore guard Molly Sanders has been a consistent scorer in preseason and has been hitting a high percentage of 3-pointers. Bianca Roach, another sophomore point guard, has impressed the staff with her defense.
Freshmen Laurel Jaunich and Kaila Clark have shown they can contribute in the front-court. Morgan Taylor, another plebe, started a scrimmage against Coppin State and scored in double figures.
"What is really interesting is that we are truly 12 deep. Every single kid can help the team," Pemper said. "Everyone is in a similar talent range. So the challenge for the coaching staff is to utilize the personnel as best as possible."
Pemper intends to do that by using a variety of full- and half-court presses on defense while pushing the ball up-court on offense. She plans to substitute liberally in order to keep fresh bodies on the floor.
"We're hoping to play at a fast pace and speed people up. We need to take advantage of our depth to tire teams out," Pemper said.
Fenske, Condie and Dunham have all played the point guard position while there are several other players the coaching staff trusts handling the ball. Navy has been working during preseason on having players take the ball off the defensive glass and immediately start dribbling up-court.
"We're working on a system where anyone can start the break. We don't need to make an outlet pass. I want them to rebound and go," Pemper said. "We're making more of an effort to create offense from defense."
Condie and Dunham are the top returning scorers, having averaged 10.7 and 9.5 points last season. Condie topped the team in assists (63), ranked third in steals (31) and fourth in rebounding (108).
"Sarita brings a lot of confidence and competitive fire along with a solid understanding of our systems," Pemper said of Condie, who suffered a broken foot in June and only recently got out of a walking boot and began practicing.
Swett was voted the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year for 2016. The 5-foot-8 senior led Navy in both steals (63) and rebounds (160) while routinely guarding the opponent's top scoring threat.
"Justice has improved her ability to shoot from the perimeter and is generally trying to find more ways to score," Pemper said of Swett, who averaged only 3.9 points a year ago.
Kennedy, a versatile 5-foot-8 forward, averaged eight points and 4.2 rebounds. She must be more consistent over the course of the season after playing very well during the non-conference portion of the schedule then tailing off in Patriot League play.
Jaunich, the Gatorade Player of the Year for Vermont as a junior at Champlain Valley Union High, is the tallest player on the team at 6-foot. Clark, a first team All-County selection by Capital-Gazette as a senior at Archbishop Spalding, arrives in Annapolis after spending a year at the Naval Academy Prep School.
"Kaila is a very good shot blocker and a rugged rebounder," Pemper said. "I think Kaila and Laurel are good basketball players. They both have good instincts and confidence."
Navy had four players that earned varsity letters last season leave the program. Guard Danielle Poblarp, forwards Haley Unger and Sarah Reilly and center Peyton Winters are all still enrolled at the Naval Academy. Unger played in 25 games with 11 starts while Poblarp played in 21 games with eight starts. Winters, a 6-foot-2 center who provided an interior defensive presence and led the Midshipmen with 17 blocked shots, may be the most notable loss.
Navy captured three straight Patriot League Tournament championships to earn automatic berths in the NCAA Tournament in 2011, 2012 and 2013. The Midshipmen won the regular season title in 2014, but were upset in the semifinals.
Last season, Navy finished sixth in the Patriot League standings during the regular season then fell in the quarterfinals. The Midshipmen finished .500 both overall (15-15) and in the conference (9-9).
"What happened last season makes us a little hungrier. We know what we need to bring," Swett said. "We have to be able to move on from last season. We have set clear goals and everyone is on the same page."
Wake Forest, which plays in the highly-competitive Atlantic Coast Conference and finished 17-16 last season, will provide a stiff test in the opener. Navy then travels to Knoxville to take on Tennessee, a perennial powerhouse in the Southeastern Conference and one of the most storied programs in women's college basketball history.
NAVY AT A GLANCE
Home court: Alumni Hall (5,710)
Head coach: Stefanie Pemper, ninth season (148-104)
2015-2016 record: 15-15 overall, 9-9 Patriot League (sixth place)