Winter Preview: Women’s Basketball Tries to Stay on Top

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Winter Preview: Women’s Basketball Tries to Stay on Top

Fordham Women’s Basketball will try to continue last year’s magic. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

Fordham Women’s Basketball will try to continue last year’s magic. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

Fordham Women’s Basketball will try to continue last year’s magic. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

Fordham Women’s Basketball will try to continue last year’s magic. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

Jimmy Sullivan, Sports Editor

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Fordham Women’s Basketball has a nearly impossible act to follow.

For the first time since 2014, the Rams will enter the season as defending Atlantic 10 champions. Last year’s team made the NCAA Tournament before ultimately losing 70–49 in the first round to Syracuse.

There were some significant losses for head coach Stephanie Gaitley’s team from last year to this one. Lauren Holden, Mary Goulding and Columbia transfer Alexa Giuliano are all gone from one of the most successful teams in the school’s history. Holden and Goulding were starters on last year’s team, and Goulding was named the the Atlantic 10 Tournament’s most outstanding player after averaging over 20 points and nearly seven rebounds over the course of three games. Holden started 117 games over her four years as a Ram, and Giuliano came over for a grad year after spending her first three collegiate years at Columbia. Gaitley and her staff will miss the off-court presence and leadership that all three provided.

This year’s team is on the younger side, with only one impending departure in Syracuse grad transfer Isis Young. With Holden and Goulding gone, junior Bre Cavanaugh figures to assume a larger on- and off-court role for the Rams. Precedent has shown that Cavanaugh should be able to handle this responsibility — since arriving at Rose Hill, Cavanaugh has made it to the A-10 first team twice. Cavanaugh also made the A-10 Tournament team with Goulding after leading the Rams in scoring over the three games. Cavanaugh should be the offensive leader of the team; last year, she scored at least 10 points in all but three of Fordham’s 34 games.

While the team is younger, it brings back many pieces from last year’s title run. Sophomore Kaitlin Downey will be a starter for the Rams and was named a captain by Gaitley and her staff after improving in all facets of her game over the course of last season. Junior Kendell Heremaia is back as well, and she, too, will be a captain along with Downey and Cavanaugh.

That leaves two spots to be filled with the absences of Goulding and Holden. Redshirt sophomore center Vilisi Tavui, who has made massive strides over the summer, is expected to take on increased responsibilities and even a starting spot, as well. As for the other spot, it could very well be filled by a freshman. First-year players Anna DeWolfe and Sarah Karpell are both expected to be part of Gaitley’s rotation, and the Fordham coach indicated that DeWolfe is the favorite to start at the point to replace Holden.

There will be an adjustment period for Fordham, and it will be challenged by a difficult out-of-conference slate. The first game of the season will be Tuesday, Nov. 5 against defending national runner-up Notre Dame at the Rose Hill Gym. The Irish should enter the game as, at minimum, a top-five team in the nation. Other noteworthy teams on the out-of-conference docket include Villanova, Penn State, Arkansas, Georgetown and Houston. There should be growing pains for the Rams as they get acclimated to a new roster and new roles, but the team should be able to identify its own strengths and weaknesses by the time it enters A-10 play, just as it did a season ago.

There are also new faces on the coaching staff, as former Fordham assistant Ang Szumilo left in April to become the new head coach at Fairleigh Dickinson. Replacing her is Candice Green, who spent the past three years as an assistant at Colgate, her alma mater. Also joining the staff as its new video coordinator is Kerri McMahan, who graduated from Saint Louis University in May and is the reigning A-10 Defensive Player of the Year.

Fordham will have to work hard to reach the heights it did last season. Certain players will need to step up and adjust to new roles in order for the team to reach its full potential. The Rams are ranked third in the Atlantic 10’s preseason poll, and the rest of the conference, namely 2019 semifinalists VCU and Dayton, will be better. But while last year’s team is not fully intact, there is plenty of talent left over — aided by the new talent of DeWolfe, Karpell and fellow freshman Eden Johnson — for this team to be in contention for another conference title.