WBB : Syracuse caps mediocre season with strong finish in WNIT

first_imgSeven days after Syracuse’s grueling five-month season ended, Shakeya Leary was already back in the Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center.Running up and down the floor Wednesday morning, Leary traded turns driving to the basket and taking pull-up jumpers with associate head coach Matt Luneau. The 20-minute full-court workout left an exhausted Leary sprawled on the ground for a moment as she tried to catch her breath.Though the season only just came to a close, she and her teammates started offseason workouts this week.‘We’re just working out every day just to get ready for next season,’ Leary said. ‘It started the day we ended, so if we just continue to work hard, we’ll get better, and we’re just trying to push for the future and just have a better season next year.’Leary and her teammates are determined to do better after a disappointing regular season foiled their hopes of earning a berth in the NCAA tournament. Syracuse suffered through an up-and-down year that resulted in a 22-15 record overall, a 12th-place finish in the Big East and a fourth straight trip to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textA re-energized Orange team made the most of its postseason experience, winning four straight games on the road to reach the WNIT semifinals for the first time in program history before losing to James Madison 74-71 last Wednesday. The strong finish opened the players’ eyes to their capabilities and has them already looking forward to the future. SU loses just one starter – leading scorer Iasia Hemingway – to graduation and welcomes the No. 6 recruiting class next year, according to Collegiate Girls Basketball Report.With that combination of experience and young talent, SU head coach Quentin Hillsman and his team will open the season with high expectations to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008.‘We wanted to win (the WNIT), but we made it farther than we did the year before,’ SU guard Rachel Coffey said, ‘so now it just makes you even more hungrier, just want to go out and make the NCAA and just play harder and get better.’This year’s Orange squad entered the season motivated to make the NCAA tournament coming off back-to-back 25-win seasons and WNIT appearances.But that goal became unattainable when tougher competition exposed SU’s shortcomings. After a 6-0 start, Syracuse put together just one three-game winning streak during the regular season.The lack of consistent guard play plagued the Orange offensively early on.La’Shay Taft, who came into the season as the starting point guard, never found confidence running the offense or shooting from long range. And Coffey didn’t find her shooting stroke immediately either.Meanwhile, opposing defenses clamped down on Hemingway and Kayla Alexander in the paint. The SU offense sputtered and the team couldn’t string together wins.‘You go through your ups and downs, but at the end of the day we still love each other,’ Leary said. ‘And we’re just going to bring it all together, and that’s what it’s about, and that’s what the game of basketball is, just being able to come in as a unit and as one.’Syracuse showed signs of coming together late in the season as Coffey started knocking down shots and commanding the offense. Against then-No. 21 DePaul, she scored a then-career-high 22 points to lead the Orange to its lone victory over a ranked opponent.But SU lost three of its next four games, a slide that sent the Orange on the road to start the WNIT. After its loss to West Virginia in the Big East tournament, Hemingway said the team was determined to give its season meaning with a strong performance.‘At the end, you start realizing if you lose one it’s going to be over soon, so I wish we would have done it a little earlier,’ Coffey said, ‘but we came together and just wanted to win.’Syracuse ripped off four wins on the road in nine days to make the WNIT Final Four, giving it confidence to build on for next season.Hemingway said her teammates were already planning offseason pickup games on Tuesday, remaining motivated to make sure next season is different.And with the combination of experience and young talent set for next year’s roster, the senior expects to see the program achieve its ultimate goal.‘Coach Q, he’s going to do some damage here,’ Hemingway said. ‘I really look forward to him making the change. We haven’t been to the NCAA tournament in a couple years, but I really feel like next year he has the stuff that is going to put the pieces together.’rjgery@syr.edu Published on April 4, 2012 at 12:00 pm Contact Ryne: rjgery@syr.edu Facebook Twitter Google+center_img Commentslast_img

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