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Minutewomen improving defense, look for sixth man

Some players have graduated, some are returning, and some will step into the Mullins Center for the first time.

Just three days remain before the start of the Massachusetts women’s basketball season, when the Minutewomen hit the court with a new-look roster.  

UMass takes on Boston University Sunday, when they will try to discredit their Atlantic-10 pre-season coaches’ poll rank of 11.

Minutewomen coach Marnie Dacko understands her team needs to fill some voids, especially after losing star guards Stefanie Gerardot, the team’s leading scorer, and Sakera Young, who was third in scoring.

Sophomore guard Kristina Danella was second in scoring as a freshman last year, and was named to the A-10 All-Rookie Team. Dacko understands Danella will play a big role in the offense this year, along with other players.

“Danella’s been doing a great job along with Cerie Mosgrove and Stephanie Lawrence,” she said. “They are the three mix-and-match forwards for us, and they give us a lot of court presence offensively and defensively. They’ve worked in the offseason on their shooting, and they’ll be ready to go.”

Mosgrove, a six-foot guard, started 11 of 30 games last year, registering 5.8 points per game, 1.9 rebounds and 16 assists. Lawrence saw limited time last year as a sophomore forward, but did finish with 58 points, 31 rebounds, seven assists, five blocks and five steals.

One of the biggest impact players on the roster is junior forward Teya Wright, who led the team last year in rebounds, blocks, steals and field goal percentage. The seasoned six-foot-one junior averaged 7.9 rebounds per game, registered 20 blocks and 51 steals, and had a .513 field goal percentage in 29 games.

Senior guard Diatiema Hill started in all but one of the team’s 30 games last year and had the second-most assists with 87. On top of that, she averaged 5.3 points per game and 3.7 assists.

Other returning players include senior guard Kim Benton, sophomore guard Emilie Teuscher, redshirt junior guard Megan Zullo, and sophomore center Nicole Jones.

Veterans aside, Dacko believes that the three incoming freshmen will have a big impact this year and will challenge the upper-classmen for playing time. Dee Montogomery, a freshman guard from Tennessee High School in Bluff City, Tenn. will join freshman teammates Shakia Robinson, a forward from North Penn High School in North Wales, Pa. and Jasmine Watson, a center from South Bend Washington High School in South Bend, Ind.

For the second straight year, UMass will be running a new offense that depends heavily on all five players scoring, with a lot of participation from the bench. As of now, the Minutewomen don’t have a set starting lineup.

“We’ve changed our starting lineup around a lot so far,” Dacko said. “A big thing for us is to look for who is going to give us a spark off the bench and who will contribute as a sixth or seventh player.”

Dacko wants the offense to start with the defense, which is much improved from last year. The Minutewomen have worked on their defense throughout the preseason and expect it to pay huge dividends, especially in the post.

“We’re much stronger in the post position this year than last year,” Dacko said. “When healthy, we’re a much deeper team in the post. We’ve got some imposing figures in the post and they’ll see a lot of minutes throughout the season.”

Although Dacko does not have a concrete starting lineup yet, expect that to change as the Minutewomen get their first few games in the books.

Steve Levine can be reached at slevine@student.umass.edu.

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