By MICHAEL MORRIS
The University of Mary Washington women’s basketball team will take its new high-paced offense to the court for the first time on Nov. 18 when the Eagles host Christopher Newport University in the season opener of the UMW Tipoff Classic. York (NY) College and Newport News Apprentice School will also be in attendance as the men’s basketball team christens the new William M. Anderson Center.
UMW is coming off of a 16-10 season, which ended in a disappointing Capital Athletic Tournament loss to St. Mary’s College in the conference semifinals.
“Last year we had as simple of an offense and defense as we could,” Head Coach Rod Wood said. “In order to compete I have to become more involved and that’s what I’m doing with this new offense.”
Junior forward Ryan Henderson described the new offense as much more of a fast break style where the players move the ball quickly up the court. This type of offense will give the Eagles more options when attacking the opposing teams’ defenses.
Wood acknowledged that the new offense will also bring with it some setbacks. All of the players, even the returning starters, are starting at ground zero in terms of being familiar with the more complicated scheme. The returning players won’t be able to help Wood as much in assimilating the new players into the offense because they will be learning it themselves.
“It’s hard to understand the tempo and timing,” Wood said. “The visual cues and recognizing when to change the play is much more difficult in this offense.”
The basketball team has been scrimmaging to work on their timing and conditioning, as a faster paced offense calls for more players having to get up the court. Wood and his players recognize that it may take some time before the team is able to fully utilize their new package.
“The concepts I’m putting in are more of a long term project,” Wood said. “This gives us the best chance to win more games over a longer period.”
Wood said that the players were picking up the offense slowly and that the team may struggle in the early going as part of the learning curve. The hope is that the team will be able to adjust well enough to have everyone peaking at the right time in the season: tournament play.
“We are much more athletic than we have been in the past,” Wood said, “which is why I put [this offense] in. I’m sure they’ll get it.”
In order to compensate for potential offensive problems in the beginning of the year, the team has been focusing on strengthening other areas of play.
“We have to be a great defensive team,” Henderson said. “That’s the most important thing for us to focus on right now. We have to carry out the concepts of our coach and be the best we can be.”
Wood said that he set up a much tougher schedule for the team this year so that they could learn from playing in big games. The hope is that the tougher regular season slate will make the Eagles more battle tested and prepared for the end of the season stretch.
Mary Washington defeated CNU in a 78-75 thriller in the only meeting between the two teams last season. That win marked the Eagles’ first victory in their last 12 meetings with the Captains, but UMW will look to make it two in a row when next Friday comes around.