By MICKEY BARNES
The 2015-16 season has brought many up and down moments for the University of Mary Washington men’s and women’s basketball programs. As the CAC tournament approaches, the teams have progressed skillfully and in the ways of team chemistry, creating optimism for the remainder of the season.
The season opened up on Nov. 15 for the UMW men’s basketball program, on the day the team created a feat that took them 11 games last year, they came away victorious. That win on Nov. 15 against Randolph-Macon set a stage for the Eagles basketball program that there was a new team in town and that second year head coach Marcus Kahn and his boys are a new program.
In his first year as the man in charge at Mary Washington, Marcus Kahn and the Eagles finished the season at 8-19, while advancing to the second round of the CAC tournament with an upset victory at Marymount University. Last year’s team only graduated one senior, that being leading scorer and captain Taylor Johnson. Despite the loss of their star player, Kahn and his staff recruited highly coming into this season, gaining additions of some key freshmen and transfers, notably leading scorer T.J. Jones.
These key additions have led this year’s team to what many consider a turnaround season, despite their current four-game skid. The Eagles are currently 7-9 on the season, with their struggles coming in the conference at 3-6. Despite the under .500 win percentage, six of the team’s nine losses have been by six points or less.
T.J. Jones, the team’s leading scorer with just under 18 points a game, is a junior transfer from Division II Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania. Twice Jones has come up big for the Eagles in the clutch as he sealed victories for the program with buzzer-beating shots. The first buzzer beater was a three-pointer against then 16th ranked Virginia Wesleyan college at home. Just three games later, Jones came up big again at conference opponent Wesley College.
Mark Madison, a freshman from Norfolk, Virginia is an another example of one of Kahn’s newer additions who has stepped up big for the program. Madison is the second leading scorer with 11.1 points per game. One teammate of Madison’s referred to him as the likely CAC freshman of the year. His impressive numbers are accompanied by a phenomenal percentage from the free-throw line, as Madison often finds himself at the charity stripe throughout the game, he is shooting just under 90 percent.
The team’s biggest lost of the season was not an actual defeat from the hands of an opponent, but came in the second game of the season as sophomore captain Eric Shaw went down with an injury. Shaw’s injury created some discouragement for the team as he has been the proven vocalist for the young Eagles. The injury forced Shaw to sit out the next 12 games, but this did not leave him discouraged as even in the games that Shaw had to sit out, he could often be seen as lead vocalist from the bench and consistently encouraging his teammates throughout the games regardless of the score.
Shaw returned to action at Marymount University and proved to have little rust as hescored 18 points and pulled down 7 rebounds. He then followed up his return game with a similar performance of 18 points and 9 rebounds against Southern Virginia. In his four games so far on the season, Shaw is averaging 12.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.
When asked about Shaw’s injuries Coach Kahn said, “initially we thought it was going to be an awful blow, but individuals like John Cronin have really stepped it up, but we are very happy to have Eric back….with Eric back, a lot less pressure is put on players like T.J. because Eric is such an offensive threat.”
Junior Isaac Blue, one of the longest tenured players on the team had a lot to say about this years team and the success compared to last years. “The pain we felt last season was a huge motivator for this season so that we never felt that way again which has helped with our success this year,” Blue said.
A very young team this year, the UMW men’s program has a lot to look forward not just for the remainder of this season, but for years to come. Like last year, this years team will be graduating only one senior, creating the way for the six juniors to step up next season and the classes below them with greater experience under their belt. “ It is a very positive thing to be such a young team, we can keep the nucleus together for a lot of years….Experience matters,” Kahn said.
Both Blue and Kahn would like to thank Eagle Nation for their continued support andask that they keep coming out to cheer on the program.
Like the men’s program, the University of Mary Washington women’s program is off to a better start this season than last. The big difference between the two programs though is the record difference for the women, who are just one game better than last year at 13-3, compared to 12-4 in 2014-15. The men last year at the 16-game mark were 3-13, compared to this year’s 7-9.
The team that lost in the CAC championship game and was denied an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament last year came into this season hungry and ready. Last year’s program graduated four seniors, opening up space for this year’s team for incoming freshman. A core of players who have really helped this program reach the success it has. The UMW women’s program coached by head coach Deena Applebury was voted preseason favorites to win the CAC.
The Eagles opened up the season with a debacle of the Lynchburg Hornets 67-48, where junior Breezi Comden, like she has most games this season, led them in scoring.
The Eagles started off the season 6-0, with only two of their victories being less than a 22-point margin. The Eagles second victory of the season came over Randolph College by 41 points. This was the second largest victory of the season for the women’s team, a 50-point margin of victory of conference opponent Frostburg State.
This year’s women’s program is led by Comden who is averaging just under 14 points and 5.5 rebounds per game and is also shooting a phenomenal 55 percent from the field. Comden has boasted two double-doubles this season and has had performances of 24 and 25 points. Elizabeth Dofflemyer is an example of the great additions to this year’s team. The freshman guard is averaging 9.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. Dofflemyer has three double-doubles on the season including a 21-11 game against Virginia Wesleyan. Kendall Parker, the sophomore sharpshooter, is the third leading scorer for the Eagles with 8.4 points per game including a 20 point performance against Meredith College in which she made six three-pointers.
When asked what has led to the success of this years team, Parker said, “Our chemistry and defensive mindset are both top priorities every single day whether we are in practice or a game.” Parker also mentioned that the freshmen’s eagerness to learn and get better has been vital to the programs current success over the season.
Of their three losses, one came in Puerto Rico over the winter break in which the team competed in a tournament in San Juan. Another loss for the program this season cameby the hands of Christopher Newport University who defeated the Eagles by 10. Christopher Newport is ranked just out of the DIII top 25 as they are one of the teams who has received a number of votes.
Parker expressed her team goals to win the CAC championship this year, but the team’s main focus is to just get better at the game every single day to get them closer and closer to their goal.
The Eagles are hungry and ready to take back the championship title they were unable to come away with that last season.
Both the men and women teams will be in action at home for three consecutive games as they look to improve their overall records as they attempt to climb the CAC rankings ladder.