---- — GOSHEN - Third-year Goshen Gollege women's basketball coach Stephanie Miller is optimistic about the 2013-14 season.
With seven returning players - six who saw significant playing time a year ago - experience will be a plus for the Maple Leafs this season. Goshen is coming off a 3-27 campaign last year, one plagued with injuries.
The Maple Leafs are off to an 0-2 start so far in 2013-14 after falling on the road to IU-Northwest in Gary last Tuesday night, 71-41, and losing to Holy Cross Friday night in their home opener, 79-76. They return to action Tuesday night at home against Aquinas College.
Miller wants the new faces coming into the program to not worry about the history, and instead focus on the here and now.
That's something some of the veteran players plan to help with.
Junior guard Avery Bischoff said team chemistry has been great so far. "We've only been playing together for a month, but we've already built up chemistry, so that's been exciting."
And with no seniors, the Maple Leafs will be able to build on that chemistry for two seasons.
Miller wants her team to make a move into the upper tier of the Crossroads League, and she feels this team has the ability to do just that.
Key returning players for Goshen include sophomore forward Jo'Mani Thomas, who was runner-up for the freshman of the year award in the Crossroads League last season. Thomas led the Maple Leafs with 10.8 ppg. and 6.5 rpg. in 2012-13, and was No. 16 in the country with an 83.7 free throw percentage.
Sophomore Liz Tecca is back to handle the ball. Tecca was a late-bloomer as a freshman, and had six double-figure scoring games in her last nine. She finished with 9.5 ppg and 3.3 rpg to go along with 2.0 apg. Fellow sophomore Tyra Carver is a versatile scorer who averaged almost seven points a game last season and had three 15-point showings during Crossroads League competition.
Junior Jaime Stack, one of the Maple Leafs' most versatile players the past few seasons, could be back in January after rehabbing from injuries suffered in a serious car accident over the summer.
Promising newcomers include 6-2 freshman center Natalie Thomas, a Bethany Christian product; 6-foot Florida native Angela McLean; and Calla Bartlett, all-time leading scorer at Byron High School in Michigan.
What's the key for success for the Maple Leaf women this season?
For Miller, it comes down to defense. "Energy on defense can create opportunities on offense," Miller said.
Bischoff said the Maple Leafs have to continue to work on putting together complete games.
"We had too many games last year where we played a good first half or a good second half," Bischoff said. "You've got to play well for 40 minutes."
Miller said the new players will bring energy, enthusiasm and experience with winning programs. It's going to be a matter of taking that and converting it to the faster, more complex college game.
"When you're building a program, it takes some time to get people on the right page with the direction you're going," Miller said.
"We're going in the right direction."
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