After two years of a heavily-experienced roster that delivered back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances, this year’s Seton Hall women’s basketball roster faces a new challenge, as it is loaded with inexperience.
While last year the Pirates had five seniors on their roster, they will only have two this year. The bulk of the roster is comprised of the eight-player freshman class. Even the captains are young, as LaTecia Smith is a sophomore and Kaity Healy is a redshirt freshman. Smith, Healy and head coach Tony Bozzella will be tasked with leading an extremely young roster this time around.
The Pirates’ freshmen class will have a strong presence within the locker room and on the court. They are led by forward Deja Winters out of Richmond Heights, Ohio and guard Kaela Hilaire, a native of Floral Park, N.Y. The rest of the freshmen class consists of guards Tyeisha Smith and Ali Fitzgerald, as well as forwards Skylar Snider, Shadeen Samuels, Jayla Jones-Pack and Chanel Jemmott.
With the transition from high school to college comes challenges.
“High school wasn’t easier, but it was definitely easier than college. There’s more seriousness so you have to work harder on the court and in the classroom every day,” Winters said.
Both Winters and Kaela Hilaire agreed that the hardest transition was not the college workload, but the incredible difference in intensity on the basketball court.
“The game is faster and everyone is as big as you know,” Hilaire said. “I really have to get up and down the court much faster.”
She went on to talk about the intensity level Coach Bozzella brings to practice and how it will only prepare them for their tough non-conference slate and the always grueling Big East.
When asked if his team’s expectations have been tempered due to the lack of experience, Bozzella was optimistic, but not yet convinced that his young team will be as successful as they have been in recent years.
“It’s not so much that we have eight freshmen, but we have no experienced guards to handle the ball whatsoever,” Bozzella said. “If you’re going to win in the Big East, you need experienced ball handlers. We will have our ups and downs but that’s why any expectations are tempered, not because we aren’t talented or because we aren’t working hard.”
Such a lack of experience means that the Pirates have room for improvement over the course of the season.
“It’s hard, but I am getting used to the pace,” Hilaire said. “I think that the more we play the better we will get because we are so young.”
Bozzella agrees with Hilaire, saying, “As they get more experience on the court, you will see us get better and better.”
If there is one thing both Hilaire and Winters share, it’s a chip on their shoulders. Both talked about the lowered expectations because of their inexperience and have used it as motivation on the court.
“The freshmen have a lot to prove,” Winters said. “They are saying we’re young but I think we should be good anyway.”
“Us freshman have to prove we belong here and that we can play,” Hilaire said. “But I’m confident that we’ll do that.”
Despite the young roster, Bozzella is challenging his team and the players have responded. Even with the tempered expectations, the confidence level is as high as ever.
Andrew Lombardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Anlombardo8.