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UMass women’s basketball opens Friday against Maine-Fort Kent

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/ Daily Collegian)

The season opens for the Massachusetts women’s basketball team this Friday, as the new-look Minutewomen play Maine-Fort Kent at home.

Heading into the season opener, UMass doesn’t have film of UMFK to review. Coach Tory Verdi said that the Minutewomen were focused on their own performance rather than their opponent.

“Our first game is more about us, it’s about us doing what we need to do,” Coach Verdi said. “I expect us to come out and play extremely hard.”

UMass returns only four players from last season, when it had only played seven consistently. Among the returning players is leading scorer Hailey Leidel, who was the Atlatntic 10 Rookie of the Year last year, along with starting center Maggie Mulligan and starting guard Leah McDerment. The Minutewomen will also introduce seven new players this season.

“We’ve been working so hard all summer and preseason,” Leidel said. “So we just want to show we’re fast, we’re improved from last year. We want to rebound, push the floor, get a lot of shots up and we just want to focus on what we can do and show everyone what we’ve been working on.”

The Bengals play in Division II of the NAIA and finished 16-11 last year. Despite never facing Fort Kent, Verdi said he knew a little about last year’s team.

“It’s tough, because we know what’s out there on the Internet, but we don’t have any film,” Verdi said. “Fort Kent has a new coach, they have new players coming in, so they’re different from a year ago. They have a couple players on their team that can shoot the ball, we need to make sure we identify them, know where they are, and make them put the ball down on the floor.”

After UMFK, UMass plays Towson on Sunday, also at home. Towson, which has also never played UMass before, finished last year at 12-18 and brings in five new players.

“Towson’s going to be a really good test for us early on in the year, we’ll see exactly where we are,” Verdi said. “They’re long, they’re athletic, they get up and down the floor, they drive, they attack the rim, so it’s going to be a great start for us and we’re looking forward to it.”

UMass has played two exhibition games so far, against Kutztown and Flagler, winning both. Verdi said that the improvement between the two exhibitions had him feeling confident heading into the opener.

“The first exhibition game, you’ve got seven new players, I think there’s a lot of nervousness,” Verdi said.  “We weren’t very systematic. We didn’t play well on both sides of the ball, we didn’t pass the ball, we didn’t share the basketball as well as I would have liked. What’s crazy about it is we’re only talking about two days in between, we went from one end of the spectrum to the other. We had good shots against Flagler the other night, we made that extra pass and went from a good shot to being a great shot. That’s what we need to do.”

After a 9-21 season last year that ended with an eleven-game losing streak, any reason for optimism is welcome. This weekend will begin to determine whether that optimism is merited and give the Minutewomen a chance to wipe away the memory of last season.

Verdi said that the improvement between the two games was a step in the right direction.

“We’re growing, we’re making those improvements, we’re knocking down shots, our base is where it needs to be,” Verdi said. “So I like where we are right now.”

Friday’s game begins at 4:30 p.m. at the Mullins Center. Following that game, the Minutewomen will return to action against Towson at 2 p.m. on Sunday.

Thomas Haines can be reached at thaines@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @thainessports.

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