By: Azarr Johnson
Last season the Great Danes fell short of expectations. Although they finished the season strong with a 24-8 record, they were knocked out by Hartford in the semifinals of the American East tournament. For the first time in six seasons, they would not be playing for an American East title. They have won the title six straight times and wouldn’t have an invite to the NCAA tournament. They ended up finishing the season with a loss to Penn in the WNIT.
Although they fell short of expectations, with UAlbany’s history/track record, the fans, alumni and everyone else figured there is always next season. But what they did not know or expect, was the many changes coming around the corner. During the off season, their senior/best player Jessica Fequire graduated and is now playing overseas. Mckenzie Tropic transferred to UC Davis and coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee left for Boston College. UAlbany was now in the same boat with some of the other schools that has coaching vacancies in their conferences (Binghamton, Umass Lowell and Vermont).
In enters the new coach, Colleen Mullen, from Army West Point. Unlike Bernabei-McNamee, who came into a established program, that already had great players/structure and she created a culture of winning, Coach Mullen is starting from scratch. She has only eleven players on the roster. The good news is she has four seniors, so there is some experience on the team. When coach Mullen had her press conference for her hiring at media day, she did not shy away from the obvious elephant in the room, which are the obstacles in front of her. Coach Mullen had a positive outtake, as she stated that UAlbany has championship mentality/culture and that this team knows how to win. The positive outlook was not the reason coach Mullen is going to succeed, it is the situations she has addressed, with the positive outlook she has to overcome. She stated that one of the issues is depth at the guard spot. The fact that coaches and players are getting to know each other for the first season and that because of UAlbany’s history, they have an x on their back. Coach Mullen addressed the competition, not just from non- conference, but also in the conference and the mentality that they have to have going into the season, if they want to succeed. She stated that even though this is a team that knows how to win, we can not just be satisfied, we have to raise the bar, with being in the conference that had six teams with eighteen plus wins, five teams with nineteen plus wins and three teams with twenty plus wins last season. What stood out particularly in the press conference, was Mullen’s honesty about the challenges that lie ahead. She admitted that she was hearing the whispers, stating that most people say “that’s too much pressure, I wouldn’t take that job.” But in her eyes, it is not about the pressure, but an opportunity and coming from a leadership institution, she wants to bring leadership on and off the court.
The obstacles that Coach Mullen was referring to in her press conference, came to light during non-conference play as they started the season 3-10. During this struggle, you saw the leadership that she brings to the team. Through their non-conference struggle and at one point, a seven game losing streak, you never saw any quit in the team. There was no finger pointing or complaining , only quotes of what they could do to get better. Now that better is beginning to peak, at press time of this article, the Great Danes have won their last two games and are starting to gel. At 4-10 and conference play in full swing, it is a new season and the Great Danes still can make a run and turn things around. In Coach Mullen’s system, the players are starting to find their identity. (Froster, Schecter and Canada are imposing their will in the middle. Scheter is showing that she is not just a presence in the middle defensively, but offensively also. Frames who is their best player, scores at will, can hit shots in clutch moments) With Stokes, Conroy and Aslan contributing on both ends of the court, this team can be a problem going into conference play. We will see. Only time will tell. Stay tuned!