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Youth movement

Inexperienced Bulls look to make strides in first year of new regime

Senior Sports Editor

Published: Friday, November 9, 2012

Updated: Friday, November 9, 2012 01:11

women

Nick Fischetti /// The Spectrum

Junior Nytor Longar (21), senior Nicki Hopkins (5) and sophomore Christa Baccas (44), left to right, look to change the women's basketball culture this season.


Winds of change are blowing around the women’s basketball program.

Fresh faces yield a new chapter in women’s hoops at UB, and it all starts with the lady running the helm. New head coach Felisha Legette-Jack is looking to change the culture of the program – one that has suffered losing campaigns every year since the 2002-03 season.

Legette-Jack comes to Buffalo after coaching stops at Indiana and Hofstra. She compiled a 141-163 record in 10 seasons, which included four trips to the postseason. She plans on instituting a defensive mentality.

“We’re certainly going to make defense our mantra,” Legette-Jack said. “We’re going to make it very difficult for teams to score baskets against us. I’m really enthusiastic about defense. I want to see stealing the ball, making plays and scoring lay-ups. That leads to the fast break, and we can really set up the quick hits.”

Legette-Jack will have to do that with a roster full of unknowns. Last year’s leading scorer, Brittany Hedderson, who averaged 20.4 points per game, is gone. Hedderson was a first team All-Mid-American Conference selection. Last year’s leading rebounder, Beth Christensen, who averaged just below eight a game, is gone, too.

According to Legette-Jack, it may not matter.

“I’ve never had a team that had a go-to player,” Legette-Jack said. “My best year in Indiana [2008-09], when we had a 21-11 record, we had like three girls that averaged 10 or more points. It makes us harder to game plan against.

“It takes a committee to raise a banner. Everyone is going to have to step up.”

This is a team that, like the men’s team, has only one senior – guard Nicki Hopkins. Hopkins is a sharpshooter, one who starts the season eighth all-time in 3-pointers made in program history. She will look to lead a very young team, to “take control of the program,” according to Legette-Jack.

Forwards Nytor Longar and Christa Baccas and point guard Margeaux Gupilan are three other leaders. Longar, a junior, is coming into the season with some hype – she is a preseason All-Big Four first team selection. The returning leader in points, rebounds and blocked shots will be relied upon as a consistent post presence.

She even has a lofty goal for herself.

“My personal goal, of course, is to be MAC Player of the Year,” Longar said. “I’ve been working hard throughout the whole summer so I’m just ready to get after it.”

Baccas will be relied on to compliment Longar at the forward spot. She showed the ability to get rebounds and score on the inside as a freshman last year, but she compliments that with a sweet stroke from the wing – something she said she worked on during the summer.

Gupilan has some experience as a starter; she took over the reins midway through last season and started nine games. Her ball-handling skills and ability to run up and down the floor are a boost for a team looking to get points off of its defense in transition.

With those pieces in place, Legette-Jack is looking to implement three talented freshmen in her rotation, starting with forward Rachel Gregory and guard Mackenzie Loesing. Gregory – an Indianapolis, Ind. native – should provide a lethal scoring punch with her ability to score off the dribble. Loesing, who averaged 20 points per game in high school in her hometown of Norwood, Ohio, is another scorer.

Defensively, Legette-Jack raves about the ability of freshman Karin Moss, a tough-minded point guard who often steals the ball against unsuspecting point guards. She will be looked on to provide a spark off the bench for the Bulls.

“She has the energy of an Energizer bunny,” Legette-Jack said. “I have fun watching that kid. She’s fast as lightning.”

This year will be step one on the road to building a championship contender. Legette-Jack believes in the talent that she has in place, and the players are buying in.

“We’ve seen a lot of improvements from last year up until this time,” Longar said. “I know it’s a short amount of time, but in the weight room, we’re strong, faster, just everything is looking really positive. The expectations are extremely high.”

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