Ask anyone associated with the UConn Women’s basketball team: this is a different team from last year.
After all, the Huskies lost five seniors to graduation. They then lost junior guard Caroline Doty to a season ending knee injury.
All told, this year’s team lost 55% of last year’s scoring and 46% of their rebounding. That’s 1,728 points and 796 rebounds. You don’t just replace those numbers overnight.
One player that is looking to shoulder some of the burden, senior National Player of the Year, Maya Moore. "This is what happens," Moore said. "People graduate, and they move on. The biggest thing with me is I’m going to have to work smarter this year. I’m going to have to get to the foul line more, I’m going to have to take care of the ball, rebound more."
So as UConn tips off the 2010-2011 season against Holy Cross on Sunday, all the talk of winning streaks and history are lost on some current members of the team. They are adamant that the streak or history is not something that they talk about. Freshman guard Bria Hartley weighed in, "The streak doesn’t matter. We’re freshmen; we are not part of the streak. We look past that. We are not worried about it at all."
The year’s squad replaced those five seniors with five freshman including Hartley, Stefanie Dolson, Samarie Walker, Lauren Engeln, and Michala Johnson. Three of those players, Hartley, Dolson, and Walker are poised to have a substantial role if UConn is going to three-peat. Engeln, has shown that she will be a solid contributor and Johnson is still working her way out back from a significant knee injury suffered her senior year of high school.
With such an inexperienced team it has taken both the players and coaches to have a slightly different philosophy of the game this year.
"In the past, for a second if I didn’t know what was going on, I got away with it because of talent or experience or both but this year, I have to be ahead of everything all the time," Moore said. "Also the challenge of making sure I am helping my teammates get better every day. I am going to need them. They need me to do my role and I need them to do theirs."
Moore was always expected to have a different role this year, as the senior leader. But who expected Coach Auriemma to be a new coach? For a man who embedded with his team the famous words of Vince Lombardi, "Perfection is unattainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence," coach Geno Auriemma is taking a more laid back approach this season: "The one thing that I learned this summer [Working with the USA National Team] is that each possession is not life or death. Each possession doesn’t necessarily affect the outcome of the game. I have to keep that in mind because there are going to be possessions that are going to be really ugly."
This is completely different than the man and team that were pursuing the "perfect" game a year ago.
Coach Auriemma might be worried that it is going to be ugly but he isn’t really worried about his freshmen. He said of Hartley: "It’s rare that you get a freshman that comes in with that much confidence, court savvy, poise, and maturity that they can handle everything that is thrown at them. I have been here 25 years and I can count on one hand the number that have been like that, as freshman. It’s not easy. The stakes are higher now than they were back then."
His freshman point guard was not the only one worthy of praise. On Dolson, "I think she is going to be great. I think she is going to be one of those 4-year huge impact players. No doubt in my mind. She already is for our team."
So the streak is zero if you ask 50% of the Huskies. But the Connecticut players have put in the work and laid a foundation in summer work outs, in pre-season, and in the first month of practice, to possibly start their own.
"We have grown so much as players. We have gained confidence. We have become better players and better teammates with the rest of the team," Dolson said. She went on to say, "The five of us make up half the team. We know we have to come in here and make an impact."
Five months ago, half of them were still in high school and five months from now, they have the chance to raise a championship trophy and be a part of their own history. That is why they come here.
New team, new year, same expectations.