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Dacko believes more size will contribute to wins

Last year was considered one of the strongest years the Atlantic 10 has ever seen from its women’s basketball teams.

Massachusetts, however, did not factor much into that truth, as it finished 11th in the conference. With a new approach for 2009-10, UMass coach Marnie Dacko expects to surprise a lot of people.

Statistics show that the Minutewomen were outdone offensively by their competition last year, but not much can be said about their defensive efforts, either.

Last year, UMass’ competition owned the rights to superior rebounding, stealing and blocking. However, Dacko saw great improvement on the defensive side of the ball this preseason, and is convinced that the offense will feed off of that.

“The bottom line is playing solid defense,” Dacko said. “No matter what BU runs against us we want to get stops. Our focus point is getting stops, rebounding the basketball, and having that ignites our offense.”

Rebounding is one category the Minutewomen kept pace with last year when their opposition averaged one more rebound per game. The loss of last year’s leading rebounder, Teya Wright, may appear to hurt UMass’ ability to grab rebounds, but new additions along with experienced big women could prove otherwise.

Incoming freshmen include guard Dee Montgomery, forward Shakia Robinson and center Jasmine Watson. The 6-foot-1 Robinson and the 6-foot-3 Watson will give the Minutewomen size in the frontcourt and Dacko hopes the two will help rebounds become a strong point in the stat sheet.

New offense features strong post

For the second time in as many years, UMass will enter the season under a new, up-tempo offensive system. Last year the Minutewomen began their season inexperienced with their offensive strategy. This year is different.

“We understand our offense much better, we’re much further along at this point in time [than we were last year],” Dacko said.

The offense will look to distribute the ball to all five positions on the court in order to get balanced scoring. Dacko believes that bench participation will be important, as well as high fitness levels for her players.

“Right now we’re a very fit team,” she said. “We want to keep the games up-tempo and move the basketball around.”

One of the most important aspects of the offense this year will revolve around the post, where Dacko believes her team is greatly improved. Nicole Jones, a 6-foot-2 center, will play a larger role in the post this year and should see significant increases in her minutes and points. The additions of Robinson and Watson will also play a big impact in the post position, as their strength and size should be hard to defend.

Kristina Danella was one of the few bright spots for the Minutewomen last year, as the forward was second in the team in points and named to the A-10 All-Rookie Team. Her prolific scoring and impact on the court is making her a young leader for the Minutewomen.

The loss of star guards Sakera Young and Stefanie Gerardot to graduation has the Minutewomen stretched fairly thin at the one and two spots. Of the 11 players on the roster, six are slotted as guards. It is clear that a lot of mixing and matching will be going on to start the season, as Dacko will search for the right backcourt to complement the frontcourt.

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

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