By Trevor Dugan | February 7, 2023
UAlbany WBB team members cheering each other on from the stands
Photo Credit: Valmaria Strobel/UAlbany Athletics
The defending America East Champion, the University of Albany Great Danes have been scorching hot since the start of conference play, winning nine of their first 11 intraconference matchups.
A challenging 6-8 start to the season saw the team travel far and wide to face down tough competition, such as UNLV, Syracuse, and then #3 Ohio State. But the Great Danes have gotten back to their winning ways since conference play began on December 29, and currently look like the favorites to take home the America East title.
Winners of their first eight conference games, their 9-2 conference record is the best in the America East, and they are tied with Vermont for most overall victories in the conference. Their overall record stands at 15-9.
Vermont appears to be UAlbany’s toughest competition in their chase for back-to-back titles. The rival Catamounts handed the Great Danes their second conference defeat this past Saturday, and currently have the best overall record in the America East.
UAlbany’s first conference defeat was a one point loss at Maine, which Head Coach Colleen Mullen didn’t seem hung up on.
“If you told me in the offseason that Maine would jump around after beating us like they just won the national championship,” Mullen said during press availability “I’d have been happy.”
UAlbany’s offense features several very effective scorers. Two of their guards, Helene Haegerstrand and Ellen Hahne, currently sit top five in the conference in PPG. Haegerstand is averaging a career high 15.0 PPG this season, third among players in the America East. Hahne stands at fifth with 12.6 PPG.
UAlbany guard Kayla Cooper is also averaging a career high in PPG this season with 13.6. Last season’s Most Outstanding Player at the America East conference tournament, Cooper would currently qualify for fifth in the conference in PPG had she not missed the first 11 games of the season due to injury.
The Great Danes’ defense has been great once again this season, building on the strong showing they had last year. The team is currently second in the conference in both PPG allowed and opponent field goal percentage.
With a talented roster full of experienced players, and as defending champions, UAlbany know’s they are the team to beat in the America East. Yet they haven’t become complacent since winning the conference title last season.
“Now that we’re champions, we can't just be the same team we were last year,” says Grace Heeps, UAlbany guard. “We have to take where we were last year and elevate it in every aspect.”
They have succeeded in elevating multiple aspects of their game. After going 7-9 on the road last year, the Great Danes have surpassed that win total with a record of 8-5 in away games this season. They currently lead the conference in road victories.
Their team free throw percentage has also improved significantly, rising from 66% in 2021-22 to 73% this season, good for third in the conference.
Photo Credit: Brent Warzocha/UAlbany Athletics
Heeps, who is looked at by teammates as the vocal leader of the Great Danes, spoke to the importance of winning on the road.
“With SEFCU under renovation right now we have definitely been focused on being road warriors this year,” Heeps said. “We haven’t really had a home gym, so that’s been a huge emphasis for us.”
The Great Danes are a diverse bunch, with seven different foreign players. Six different countries are represented on the roster, with players hailing from Sweden, Australia, Estonia, Norway, Italy, and the United States.
This diversity adds to an already strong team culture. The UAlbany women are a focused group, with the same goals in mind. The team is tight knit, and every player buys in.
“The strongest part of our team is our culture. We are all really close on and off the court which definitely helps,” Heeps says. “And the majority of our team returned from last year. That definitely has given us a leg up on other teams who have had a lot of turnover.”
Head Coach Mullen stresses to her players the importance of being the best version of themselves, not just on the basketball court but in all aspects of life.
“Our coach harps on the stuff off the court more than on the court sometimes. She really wants us to be good all around people, not just athletes,” Cooper said. “We want to hold ourselves to a high standard, so we have to take that championship mentality with us from the court.”
The Great Danes are looking to win the America East Women's title for the eighth time in the last 11 seasons. Another championship would add to an already incredible run of success for the Great Danes, and would further solidify them as the premier women's basketball program in the America East.
Photo Credit: Brent Warzocha/UAlbany Athletics
“The legacy that was left by the old teams is definitely something we want to live up to,” Cooper said. “We have a really good group, mostly the same team from last year, and we have the ability to do it. So why not?”
The UAlbany women return to action this Wednesday at noon, when they travel to Smithfield, RI to take on the Bryant Bulldogs.