By ALEX BLOOM & CHRIS MARKHAM
With the season merely a few days away, the University of Mary Washington men’s basketball team is looking forward to getting back on the winning track following the most successful season in school history.
The UMW Eagles team will kick off their 2014-2015 campaign on Nov. 15th at 4 p.m. in the Anderson Center against Lynchburg College.
In 2014, the Eagles advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament following the capture of their second Capital Athletic Conference Championship with a staggering 25-6 record, the best in school history. The Eagles also finished the year ranked eighth by D3hoops.com, their highest ranking ever.
However, the 2014 season is in the past and with Virginia Coach of the Year Rod Wood no longer at the helm, as he is now a member of the UMW administrative team. Marcus Kahn’s is now leading the Eagles. Kahn was announced as the team’s head coach in late April and brings with him tremendous coaching experience as well as a long list of accomplishments.
Formerly the head men’s basketball coach at Cabrini College, over the past five years Coach Kahn has amassed the best winning percentage in the county as well as boasting a 153-27 record in his six seasons at Cabrini. During his time at Cabrini, Coach Kahn led the Cavaliers to the Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight and Final Four.
The coaching staff is not the only change that the Eagles will have to deal with this season. In 2014, a strong senior class that provided leadership and stability within the locker room anchored the Eagles.
With nearly half the team graduating or otherwise exiting the program, the Eagles will have to look to lone senior Taylor Johnson to lead the way this winter. Johnson, who gained all CAC honors in 2013-2014, averaged 13.8 points per game and 6.5 rebounds per contest despite playing with stress fractures in both feet. A CAC Medal of Inspiration award winner, Johnson will be relied upon heavily this season.
Along with Johnson, the Eagles will have to count on a young core of talent to pave the way this year to hopefully another CAC title and NCAA Tournament appearance. Transfer players from schools such as Virginia Commonwealth University and Longwood University will provide the Eagles with the depth they need to succeed in an increasingly difficult CAC.
The UMW women’s basketball team is also coming off of a highly successful 2013-14 campaign with an 18-8 record (10-6 CAC). A first round boot from the conference tournament sent the Eagles into the offseason looking for redemption.
Key returners for the Eagles will be sophomore captain Brianne Comden and senior Aubrey Howland. Comden was the Eagles’ second leading scorer and third leading rebounder last season with a sky-high field goal percentage of 44 percent. Howland was UMW’s third leading scorer and second leading rebounding in 2013-14.
The loss of seniors Sam Partonen and Aby Diop will be evident early on and the Eagles relied heavily on them last season. Diop provided the Eagles with a large presence in the paint and was UMW’s leading rebounder last year. Partonen, who consistently served as the Eagles’ floor general, was the leader scorer for UMW, averaging north of 11 points per game last year.
Despite the losses, the Eagles will still have the bar set high for the 2014-15 campaign.
The Eagles begin their season with a home game in the Anderson Center against York College in New York in the opening round of the UMW Hyatt Place Tipoff Tournament on Saturday, No. 15 at 1 p.m. Should they win, the Eagles will play again in the championship game on Sunday at the same time and place.