Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Stefanie Kulesza drops first career double-double in season opener

15 points, 14 rebounds lead Minutewomen past Saint Peter’s
Kalina Kornacki
Daily Collegian (2023)

The Massachusetts women’s basketball team needed every bit of Stefanie Kulesza’s performance on Monday evening, as the Minutewomen (1-0) outlasted Saint Peter’s, 56-44. After having a career high of nine points for her first three years at the collegiate level, Kulesza was UMass’ second leading scorer against the Peacocks (0-1), finishing with 15 points and 14 rebounds. This was the first double-double of Kulesza’s career.

Kulesza transitioned from a perimeter centric guard in the 2022-23 season into the Minutewomen’s starting power forward after the graduation of UMass’ all-time leading scorer and power forward Sam Breen. Kulesza had a very Breen-esque stat sheet, finishing 6-of-11 from the field for the aforementioned 15 points, in addition to two steals, two blocks and an assist. She finished with the second highest plus-minus on the squad at plus-12.

“It feels great,” Kulesza said. “I had a double-double in the [scrimmage against Brown] and in the Assumption exhibition, so it’s something that I’ve experienced before. I’m not really about personal stats, I’m just happy we got the one [win] and I’ll worry about what I do later.”

Kulesza hit the first shot of the 2023-24 campaign for the Minutewomen, a 3-pointer from the top of the key. After Bre Bellamy grabbed the defensive rebound, Kulesza trailed behind the staring center. As the defense collapsed to swarm the six-foot graduate student in the paint, she calmly passed out to Kulesza who hit nothing but nylon to open the scoring and give UMass the lead, something it held for all 40 minutes of the contest.

After averaging 12.6 minutes per game last season, Kulesza almost tripled that on Monday evening, finishing her night at 35 minutes and 40 seconds, leading the team. In the shadow of one of the best starting five’s in UMass women’s basketball history last year, Kulesza takes on a mentorship and team-leader role this season as one of the three returners from last season’s squad, along with Kristin Williams and Lilly Ferguson.

“Obviously [Williams] and I were here last year, so we kind of understand [head coach Mike] Leflar’s system,” Kulesza said. “I feel like teaching and helping out the new girls who maybe don’t know him as well as we do, that’s our job. We’re the foundation on how the culture is on the team, and we built this culture of a team where everybody gets along.”

In a game where the Peacocks always seemed to be within striking distance of the Minutewomen, Kulesza provided a steady hand to lead UMass through its tough shooting night. The team as a whole shot 33.3 percent from the field, with Kulesza and freshman Lillu Taulelei being the only players who shot over 40 percent.

Kulesza also accounted for just under a third of the Minutewomen’s offensive rebounds, grabbing four of their 15. She was the game leader in rebounds, finishing as the only UMass player with double-digit boards, and finished four rebounds ahead of Saint Peter’s Jada Williams.

“I shoot it and she’s there,” Williams said of Kulesza. “It’s nice; she just knows what I’m going to do. As we continue to play the chemistry is [going to] continue to build, and like I said [Kulesza’s] just there, and it’s nice to have that little cushion.”

Kulesza ended the game like she had been playing all evening: fighting to give the Minutewomen an extra possession. With just under two minutes remaining, Jermany Mapp missed a free throw line jumper, and there was Kulesza, grabbing the offensive board before taking a hard foul and going to the line. Kulesza, in a mirror image to the start of the game, scored the last two points for UMass after going 2-of-2 at the charity stripe.

“We have a long way to go … it’s [going to] take time in practice but I think we’re going to get there,” Kulesza said.

The Minutewomen are next in action on Thursday, Nov. 9, taking on Northeastern from the Cabot Physical Education center. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

Johnny Depin can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Jdepin101.

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