Youth and leadership keys to women’s basketball success this season

By Joey Saade

The Massachusetts women’s basketball team is ready to turn the page.

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

After a disappointing 3-26 finish to last season—their worst in 23 years—the Minutewomen are focused on flipping the switch and reversing their fortunes.

If they plan on doing so, they will have to get contributions from the younger players on their roster.

Entering the season, nine out of the 13 players on the roster are entering either their first or second year in collegiate athletics. Three of those players are freshmen Alyx Stiff, Meredith Tarver and Kymber Hill. Another newcomer is redshirt sophomore Amber Dillon, who sat out last season after transferring from Maine.

UMass coach Sharon Dawley is looking forward to coaching these young players as the season gets underway.

“Youth is funny, because with it you get inexperience, but the other side of the coin is you get enthusiasm,” she said. “They don’t know what’s coming, it’s exciting, and every day is new to them. I think that’s an energy that we really need coming off a rough year, so I’m not worried about the inexperience. I’m just taking advantage of the potential.”

Stiff, Tarver and Hill provide an added depth to a team that lacked versatility last season, as the roster was guard-heavy. This season, Dawley can go deep in all of her skill positions.

“It’s much better balance (than last season),” she said. “I think overall we’re a lot quicker, and a lot deeper. We have three point guards we can rotate in that spot, as well at the center position, and that’s a huge luxury to have.”

With a young roster comes the search for leadership.

Forward Kiara Bomben is the lone senior left on a team that also includes three juniors and six sophomores. Bomben enters the season as the projected sixth woman, an energetic position that Dawley finds crucial to her team’s success.

Having the most experience on this team, Bomben understands that her responsibilities on and off the court will be taken to another level.

“I feel like I have a lot of responsibility out there and have to show a lot of leadership for the younger girls,” she said. “I want to be a role model out there and I just want to bring a lot of energy to the table. I think they look up to me for experience, and even off the court I could be there for them.”

For this team, however, leadership doesn’t just stem from Bomben, but also from the underclassmen.

Three of the Minutewomen’s probable starters are sophomores, who registered valuable minutes in last season’s campaign.

Rashida Timbilla, expected to start at forward, is very confident in her younger teammates’ abilities to translate valuable experience from last season into this year.

“With our sophomores, you may look at us as young, but we all have game experience and we’re all ready to go,” she said.

Her coach thinks the same, adding that the second-year players could be mistaken for veterans based on the ways that they handle themselves on and off the court.

“The sophomores conduct themselves in practice like upperclassmen. They’re really chomping at the bit to be the leaders,” Dawley said. “They want to be the ones that other players look up to. They have this maturity about them where they don’t look like sophomores when they take the floor.”

She added, “We have great leaders on our team; they just happen to be in younger classes.”

As the Minutewomen prepare for their season opener against Western Michigan on Friday, Bomben and her teammates are ready to start a new season—one that they hope finishes better than last season.

We’re eager to get started. It’s definitely a different atmosphere and energy from last year,” she said. “Everyone on the team brings something.”

Joey Saade can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Jsaade1225