Jacob Margolis ‘20
When Head Coach Gayle Fulks was hired, she inherited a team that went 6-23 and 4-12 in conference. In just two seasons, she has comprehensively turned around the women’s basketball program. Last season, the Fulks-led Wildcats almost tripled their 2016-2017 win total to 17 victories, including an upset over Clemson. Her team also won 10 conference games, finished tied for fourth in the Atlantic 10 conference, and earned a bid to the WNIT. The question now is: can the program build on last year’s success and continue to improve?
Replicating last year’s success will not be easy, as the team loses its top scorer and A-10 3rd team all-conference guard, Justine Lyon ‘19. The team will also be forced to replace impact guard Kianna Speight ‘19, who started every game last season. Lyon and Speight both played over 25 minutes per game, combined to account for 35% of the team’s points and 20% of the team’s rebounds. When asked how the team will replace the graduated seniors’ production, Coach Fulks stated that, “It will be a collective effort; it will be important for our team to stay focused on playing our style, continuing to have great shot selection, and improving on the defensive end.”
While losing Speight and Lyon is tough, the cupboard is far from bare. The team returns two all-conference juniors, Sarah Donovan ’21 and Katie Turner ‘21. Besides being A-10 all-conference selections, Donovan was the team’s second leading scorer and rebounder. In fact, Donovan led the entire A-10 in rebounds, with 9.2 per game. Turner was third on the team in scoring and led the team in assists. Additionally, Turner was second overall in the conference in assists with 4.3 per game. The team returns two other regular starters as well: Ally Welling ’20, a 6’3’’ forward, and Cassidy Gould ’22, a guard. Welling is an especially important post piece who averaged 5.7 rebounds per game last season. Gould made an immediate impact as a freshman last season and led the team in three-point shooting at 35%.
Looking forward to this season, according to Turner, “the team has one major goal and that is to win the A10 and make it to the NCAA Tournament.” While this is a lofty goal, opinions and expectations outside the program back up the notion that it is very much attainable. To win conference, they’ll need to consolidate the improvements they made on defense and offense last year. Last season, the team’s scoring offense improved from 256th nationally to 173rd and the scoring defense sat on the cusp of the national top 100. Ideally, both the offense and defense will be within the top 100 for this upcoming season.
How does that happen? Not only will the Wildcats need big contributions from their returning starters, they’ll need returning role players such as guards Kelly Fitzgerald ’21 and Chloe Welch ’22, who combined to play in 57 games, to make a jump. They will also need contributions from new players. One very important piece of the puzzle will be Sarah Konstans ’22. Konstans was a freshman last year but was forced to miss the entire season due to injury. She brings a lot of potential to the table, being an 2018 McDonald’s All-American nominee. She is certainly someone to keep an eye on for a breakout season. The team brings four other first years, Peyton Carter ‘23, Suzi-Rose Deegan ‘23, Adelaide Fuller ‘23, and Cameron Tabor ’23. All four bring impressive resumes from their high school careers and will have a chance to contribute right away.
Will the Wildcats be able to replicate last year’s success? While one can not say for certain, Turner believes that “the key to having a successful season will be sticking together and having each other’s backs always on and off the court.” She also stated how “fortunate [she felt] to be a part of such an amazing team that is made up of the hardest working, caring, and encouraging group of girls.” It certainly sounds as if the team is prepared and ready to build on last year’s success and we will know for sure early on in the season, as the team will face some tough challenges immediately with the Preseason WNIT Tournament and games at Duke and Virginia Tech all in November.