BRIDGEWATER - A new era begins Wednesday evening for the Bridgewater women's basketball team when the Eagles open the 2017-18 season at second-ranked Christopher Newport in the first game under the direction of head coach Sarah Mathews.
The Eagles' first-year head coach is happy with the team's progress in the preseason.
"No doubt, the players have bought in to what we're trying to do," said Mathews. "In the offseason we did a ton of activities together, a lot of community service. Doing those things helped the players and the staff get to know each other a little better.
"We want to play fast," Mathews continued. "We have a small roster in terms of numbers and ideally when you're playing a faster tempo you would like to have more bodies. Depth is probably one of our biggest concerns."
While small in numbers, the Eagles do return three starters and three more players who saw significant minutes from last season's 14-12 squad.
Senior center Kaitlyn Lehan is back after earning third-team All-ODAC honors a year ago. Lehan averaged 10 points and 8.6 rebounds for the season. During the final 10 games, those numbers increased to 15.3 points and 9.3 boards per game. Lehan showed the ability to dominate at times. She was one of just a handful of players in the nation to record a triple-double when she finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds and 12 blocks against Apprentice. She scored a career-high 30 points against Shenandoah and grabbed a career-high 19 rebounds in a win over Virginia Wesleyan. Lehan also ranked second in the nation with 4.1 blocked shots per game.
Junior guard Briana Moore was playing at an all-conference level before going down with a knee injury and missing nine of the final 10 games of the season. Moore is the team's leading returning scorer as she averaged 14.7 points per game as a sophomore. In the 10 games before her injury, she averaged 18.5 points per game.
"Kaitlyn and Bri have both been playing well and playing really hard in the preseason," said Mathews. "Kaitlyn really runs the floor well and gives us a good presence inside. The main concern with Bri was the knee injury she suffered late last year, but she came back in phenomenal shape and ready to go."
Also back in the fold is junior point guard Sydni Carey. Carey averaged 7.6 points per game. She scored in double figures nine times, including a career-high 18 points against Randolph-Macon. Carey also had a positive assist-to-turnover ratio with 4.2 assists and 2.8 turnovers per outing. "Syd is a point guard who can push the tempo and she's playing with a lot of confidence in the preseason," said Mathews.
Senior forward Jessalyn Monday and junior forward Rebecca Harvey combined for 31 starts a year ago. Harvey averaged 6.2 points and 4.4 rebounds while Monday added 3.7 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. "Rebecca and Jess are both pretty versatile," said Mathews "They both can give us an inside-outside type scoring threat."
Junior center Allie Coburn also returns to give the Eagles additional size in the frontcourt. "Like Bri, Allie is coming back from an ACL, but just like Bri she's come back in great shape," said Mathews. "She's running the floor well and she can step out and shoot the mid-range shot."
Despite a late start, Mathews and her staff were able to add three first-year players to the roster in their first recruiting class.
Madison Baum, a 5-2 guard described as "a jet" on the court, will bring her quickness to the point guard position. Ahlia Moone will see action at the two-guard and is "a high IQ player who can shoot the basketball." The third first-year player is Chyna Roberts, a high-school track standout who should fit well into the Eagles up-tempo attack.
While pushing the ball on offense will be a priority, playing quality defense will be paramount.
"We've spent a lot of time on our halfcourt defense," Mathews said. "We want to keep people in front of us and play good help-side defense. We want to hold our opponents under their average. We're going to defend every night."
After opening the season at CNU, the Eagles will stay on the road for their next four games before finally returning home on Dec. 6 to host Emory & Henry College.
"I want the team to be competitive in every game," said Mathews "Our main goal is to just keep getting better day-by-day."