A wild opening weekend saw Stetson play two games in a 27-hour span, erase a 14-point deficit against Hofstra, compete nearly a game and a half without A-Sun Player of the Year Victoria McGowan, and contend in two tight games that featured a combined 13 lead changes.
Despite coming up short in both contests, the Hatters (0-2) hope to use that experience to their benefit as they head into Friday’s home opener against Florida A&M (1-0) at the Edmunds Center.
“We learned we can compete without Victoria McGowan, which last year’s team never would have done that,” Stetson head coach Lynn Bria said. “Having Jama Sharp, Simone Taylor, and Shanasa Sanders step up for us was encouraging to see.
“We also learned we do need Victoria, and I’ve always known that,” Bria added. “Especially when you have a team like South Florida who pressures so well, and who pressed us the whole game, I thought it really hurt us not having another guard like Victoria to relieve some of that pressure. But in the Hofstra game I thought we handled their pressure very well, and we almost won that game.”
Bria said that Sharp has improved a great deal since last year and that she was real proud of her sophomore guard following the Hofstra game. Having to play additional minutes in the absence of McGowan, Sharp scored in double figures in both contests last weekend while averaging 32 minutes per game.
“It’s more responsibility but I embraced it because I had to step up when Victoria went out,” Sharp said. “Somebody has to step up in those situations, and I was just trying to help out the team any way I could.”
Sharp echoed Bria’s sentiment that the team continued to compete well in the absence of McGowan.
“We are definitely a stronger team than we were last year,” Sharp said. “Victoria is obviously great when she is on the court, but we didn’t fall apart when she went out. We didn’t get all crazy with the ball. We kept our heads and were able to stay in the game. I think we work really well with each other.”
The Hatters will go for their first win of the year Friday as they begin a busy stretch of three games in five days. After the 7 p.m. contest against the Lady Rattlers, Stetson will head to Tallahassee for a 2 p.m. Sunday matinee against the Florida State Seminoles. On Tuesday, the Hatters return to the Edmunds Center for a 7 p.m. game against Volusia County rival Bethune-Cookman. All three games will be available for free on HatterVision, with Sunday’s road game being an audio-only broadcast.
After playing two quality opponents last weekend, the Hatters know the schedule doesn’t get any easier this weekend. Florida A&M was 22-8 a year ago and opened the season with a 72-69 victory at A-Sun member Jacksonville. The Seminoles are also 1-0 entering Thursday’s game with Florida and receiving votes in the AP Top 25 poll.
“Last year we started off 5-1 and I don’t think we learned anything,” Bria said. “We just have to keep our confidence and we have to keep a perspective. We have to keep getting better.”