WASHINGTON – After a solid two months of hardwood action, the CUA women's basketball team is ready to embark down the Landmark Conference road beginning at Merchant Marine Academy on Saturday, Jan. 11. Prior to the weekend's 4 p.m. tipoff, head women's basketball coach Matt Donohue recaps the season to this point.
Q: You are currently 8-3 on the season and on six-game winning streak, how have you accomplished that?
A: Clearly we are still a work in progress. That being said, we've grown tremendously since the beginning of the season because of the amount and time that our young women put in before, during, and after practice. We do a great deal of breakdown drills with them to help them grasp offensive and defensive concepts that we want to implement more easily. They have gone the extra mile by taking time outside of practice to work with coaches and/or other teammates to continue to improve.
Q: In your eight wins this season, you average a total of 81 points per game and hold your opponents to an average 64 points per game. What do you attribute to your offensive success and your defensive success?
A: In games where we have been able to find a way to win we've done a good job of staying fundamentally strong on defense while executing on offense. As a young team, we can be inconsistent from time to time. Sometimes that inconsistency can show itself during the course of single game. When we've been successful, it has been because we have executed on both ends of the floor in a consistent and positive manner. For us to continue to grow, win and succeed, we will have to become a more consistent team on both ends of the floor.
Q: As you head into conference play and the second half of the season, what is working for you and what aspects of the team's game do you need to improve upon?
A: Thus far our depth has been a key component to what we do as a team. We're a program who has always wanted to play at a high tempo. To play at such a frantic pace, you need depth to do that. We've been able to go about ten deep on most nights and as such, we've done a pretty good job of staying true to that fast paced identity that we've worked to create. In order for us to be one of the upper echelon teams in the conference again, we will need to continue to get better on the defensive end of the floor.
Q: At the beginning of the season, CUA was predicted to finish fourth behind Moravian (1), Scranton (2) and Juniata (3), with two consecutive Landmark Conference championships under your belt how do you motivate your team with the odds against them?
A: We have never really talked about rankings and predictions with our team. Our ultimate goal year in and year out is always to compete for a conference championship and an NCAA Tournament bid. However, we've always tried to impress upon our team that there are so many little things that a team needs to do before they can ever get to that point. With that in mind, we try to keep them focused on the here and now because you can't get to a meaningful February without a fulfilling January. Focus simply on winning the task in front of you and everything else will take care of itself.
Q: CUA is in the top three of five conference categories: scoring offense (2nd), scoring margin (3rd), rebounding offense (2nd), rebounding margin (2nd), offensive rebounds (2nd) and defensive rebounds (2nd). How will leading in these categories lead to success this season?
A: Being among the leaders in those categories is great and we will need to continue to achieve well in those offensive and rebounding categories listed if we are going to continue to succeed, but if we're really going to grow as a team, then we'll need to add a few defensive categories to that list as well.
Q: What Landmark Conference teams are you looking forward to facing the most and why?
A: We play in a tough conference that has gotten multiple bids to the NCAA Tournament every year. On any given night any team can be beaten. I've seen it happen too many times throughout the years. That's the beauty of the conference, you always know that you're going to get a game, so I guess that I would have to say that I'm excited by the challenges that each of our Landmark Opponent present. It will be exciting to get going with conference play with everyone, as I believe this could prove to be one of the more unpredictable years for our conference. There's simply a lot of very talented teams!
Q: Emily Grabiak has been the team's offensive leader, achieving multiple double-doubles, four above 20-point games this season and average 15.1 points per game. Conference wise, Grabiak is ranked in the top five of four conference categories. How has she been so successful? What have you told her in previous years to get her to this point in her career?
A: We've talked a great deal with Emily about leadership this year. She's has always had the ability to be a tremendous scorer and she's had some phenomenal games for us through the years. In doing so, she has established herself as one of the premier point guards in our conference, and perhaps our region as well. Beyond that, she's always had a great knack of identifying what our team needs on a given night and giving us just that. With such a young team this year we've needed Emily to take on an even greater leadership role within our program. What's been so impressive about Emily this year is how she has embraced the mantle of leadership while still identifying what the team needs each night. She's a natural leader with an ability to get others to follow her, so it's really been more about Emily setting the tone on the court and off. She's done an amazing job thus far.
Q: Josephine Migash has been consistently effective in the paint. Tell me about her game and how she developed from her freshman year?
A: Josie is a student of the game. She has a tireless work ethic and puts in countless hours watching film, working with the coaching staff, and improving. She wants to get better and continue to improve so she puts in the time in and out of practice. More importantly she soaks up everything that the coaching staff tells her and does everything that she can to implement those suggestions in her game. At the end of the season last year she was unsatisfied with what she had accomplished and articulated that she wanted to be considered among the best post players in our conference. She has put in the time to begin that journey.
Q: You have a very large freshman class, with Michelle Desantis, Melissa Errico, Bernadette Launi and Bridget Power contributing the most minutes of the 12 student-athletes. How is the freshmen class acclimating and contributing?
A: I do believe that we have a very deep and talented freshman class. That said, those young women have done a tremendous job acclimating to the college game while displaying a great deal of versatility to their individual game. That versatility coupled with their skill set has enabled them to earn some opportunities on the court, but our entire freshman class has worked hard and improved dramatically since the start of the season.
Q: How have your returners added to your success?
A: Our returners have shown great leadership this season. They've proven that they've learned from the lessons established by those who came before them and they've done a fine job of teaching our newcomers about the culture that we've worked to establish here. Beyond that they have all had to take on greater roles this season and they've worked hard to fill those roles in a positive manner. I honestly can't say that I have been surprised by any of them. When we recruited them we were confident that they would grow into strong leaders and players. They've taken great strides toward fulfilling those expectations, but I would not say that I was surprised by how much they've grown. In fact, they're probably capable of even greater achievement and I'm confident that in time they'll surprise themselves with what they can achieve.
Following Saturday's matchup, the Cardinals host a three-game homestand welcoming Juniata (Wednesday, Jan. 15), Moravian (Saturday, Jan. 18) and Susquehanna (Wednesday, Jan. 22).