UMass women’s basketball, Leah McDerment transitioning well under leadership of Tory Verdi

By Thomas Johnston

(Collegian File Photo)

With Tory Verdi taking the reigns as the new coach of the Massachusetts women’s basketball team, the Minutewomen feel they have a lot to prove, but enjoy the direction in the team is heading in.

“I think it’s gone really well,” junior guard Leah McDerment said of the transition. “Everything’s run pretty smoothly. We’ve had a few obstacles and lost a few people, but he’s handled it so well and he’s maintained the belief and our belief in one another. He’s made a really happy, healthy and positive environment.”

With a completely new coaching staff, players feel they once again have to prove themselves, and that nothing is a given. The upperclassmen, who weren’t recruited by Verdi, feel as though they are being given a clean slate. Even players like McDerment, who started 22 of 30 games last season, feel nothing will be given to them this year, even if they played a significant role on last year’s team.

“When I came in (this year) I felt like I was a freshman again,” McDerment said. “I had to prove myself and prove that I deserve to be there and that I’m worthy of this spot.”

“I think that we all started off on the same page and with a clean slate,” McDerment continued. “We are all basically freshmen again, which I think is cool because nobody came in slacking or laid back saying, ‘Oh I played 30 minutes last year.’ That doesn’t matter now because it wasn’t for him. I think everybody had to step it up and prove what they deserved.”

Verdi is tasked with taking over a team that finished 12-18 in each of the past two seasons, and went a mere 46-133 under previous head coach Sharon Dawley.

Verdi is doing so this season at the disadvantage of having only eight scholarship players on the roster and two walk-ons. In order to turn the program around, he needs to get players to buy into his system and message.

According to junior forward Maggie Mulligan, he has succeeded with that so far.

“I feel like it’s going great. He’s a really good coach and knows how to get things out of people,” Mulligan said. “He has high expectations and he likes to hold people accountable for their actions, which we really needed as a team.”

Mulligan agrees that all the returning players feel they have to earn their minutes this year, and sees this refreshing attitude as a positive for the team that has forced players to step up. Verdi’s message to the team this year is to stick together and play through whatever obstacles they come across, and this message has resonated with the players.

This year’s Minutewomen are looking at the present and towards the future, rather than focusing on years past. While they know this year will be one of rebuilding, they are confident in the direction that Verdi is taking the team, and have been given a clean slate with no carry-over from previous years.

Verdi has the players confident that the program is moving in a direction that will result in more wins and better production.

“I’d characterize this as a growth year and a transition year,” McDerment said. “We have to be realistic, but we also know that we’ve put in the work and worked harder than any other team to be where we are now. This year, we will build and grow. Next year we’re really going to start winning games and people are going to look and be like, ‘damn, look at what UMass is doing!’”

Thomas Johnston can be reached at [email protected].