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April 30, 2016

Minutewomen opens up season against George Mason

Maxwell Sparr/Collegian

The premiere of a new season, new faces and a new head coach all will get underway this Friday, as the Massachusetts women’s basketball team opens the regular season against George Mason.

Sharon Dawley, UMass’ 10th coach in the program’s history, was announced to take over the team last April. Dawley carries an impressive resume, boasting two consecutive America East titles in the past two seasons with Vermont, as well as three straight postseason berths.

“I was raised in Massachusetts and growing up it was a school that I admired,” Dawley said. “The Atlantic 10 is a great conference and after watching Xavier in the March Madness last year, I realized that this conference could have a couple of talented teams really do something.”

Dawley brings with her a load of experience, sporting a career record of 265-148 over 16 seasons. She became the winningest coach in Vermont women’s basketball history when the Catamounts upset No. 7-seed Wisconsin in the opening round of the NCAA tournament on March 21, 2010, marking the program’s first NCAA tournament victory.

UMass has made two NCAA tournament appearances in its history but is 0-2, with its last show in the Big Dance coming in 1998. The Minutewomen are 187-249 all-time in A-10 conference play, including an 11-19 overall record last year and a 5-9 record in the A-10.

The Minutewomen face the challenge of having a younger roster this season, with just two of their five starters returning. The team is made up of three seniors, one junior, four sophomores and five freshmen.

“It’s a completely new system this season for all the players, so there really isn’t any telling how fast or slow it will take for last year’s starters or newcomers to get used to the system,” Dawley said.

Captains for this season will be sophomore center Jasmine Watson, senior guard Cerie Mosgrove and redshirt senior guard Megan Zullo. The starting lineup will be a game-day decision as UMass is facing some nagging injuries that include Watson, Dee Montgomery, Talen Watson and Sara English, who is coming back from the flu.

Jasmine Watson, the reigning Rookie of the Year, was named to the preseason A-10 All-Conference Third Team. Watson was a key player for the Minutewomen last season, playing in all 30 games while starting the last 16, to finish second on the team in scoring. She averaged over 10 points per game, and led the team in rebounds with nearly six per game.

Dawley has set goals for her team that include adjusting to a different style of play, playing cohesively, playing multiple defenses and improving on their skill level throughout the season.

On Friday against George Mason, the Minutewomen will face a Patriots team returning all five starters from last season, in which they went 10-20. Friday’s meeting will be the first ever between the two schools.

“Against George Mason, our goal is to slow them up, keep them guessing with multiple looks defensively and only give them one opportunity on offense,” Dawley said.

UMass will also travel to face off against Providence this Sunday. The two teams met last season, a game in which the Minutewomen lost, 72-54. Providence is coming off a successful season in which it went 19-15 and advanced to the quarterfinals of the WNIT. The Friars lead the overall series 10-7 over the Minutewomen.

“[Providence] graduated some starters so its hard to judge how to play them with different personnel but we will be watching that tape on Saturday in preparation,” Dawley said.

In the preseason poll, Xavier was noted as the conference’s top team with 12 first-place votes, while the Minutewomen were picked 11th in the A-10. The season tips off at 5:00 p.m. on Friday at the Mullins Center.

Michael Counos can be reached at mcounos@student.umass.edu.

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