By Christian Hince | November 1, 2023
When the University at Albany women’s basketball team lost in the National Invitational Tournament’s opening round to UMass 73-48, it marked the end of a number of significant players’ time with the program.
Head coach Colleen Mullen during a Friday media availability.
Photo Credit: Vince Gasparini/ The ASP
Grace Heaps transferred to Canisius for year five. Morgan Haney transferred for year five as well, heading to Akron. Ellen Hahne and Lucia Decortes had played out their eligibility. So what’s next?
In 2022-23, UAlbany finished 14-2 in the America East and 22-12 overall, splitting the regular season conference title with Vermont before falling to the Catamounts in the conference championship by a record-low score of 39-37.
This season, the America East preseason coaches poll predicted the Great Danes to finish third behind Vermont and Maine, respectively. Head Coach Colleen Mullen found the ranking “pretty impressive,” considering the team’s loss of several experienced players. “I think we have work to do and I always like being the underdog. I like proving people wrong,” she said.
For UAlbany to prove doubters wrong, performances from players like senior guard Kayla Cooper will likely be crucial. Cooper is coming off a first-team all-conference year where she led the Great Danes in scoring and shooting with 15.2 points per game on an average of 48.7% from the field, leading in rebounding as well with 8.7 per game.
Cooper thinks that returners such as herself set an important example. “We only know winning, a lot of us,” she said. “We have to set the tone for everybody and just hold everyone to it so we win as much as we can.
The most surprising returner is fifth-year forward Helene Haegerstrand, the sixth leading scorer in program history and the other all-conference first-teamer from last season. Leading the Great Danes in 3-point shooting at 39.4% in 2022-23, she planned to work with the team as a student manager due to a nagging injury before deciding to use her fifth year of eligibility this past week. “I’m just really excited to do whatever I can this year,” she said. “If it’s on the court, off the court, whatever is needed.”
Mullen expects to see leadership in the form of Sarah Karpell, a fifth-year guard who transferred from Fordham after last year who is set to be a team captain. “We're really excited for the way she can create off the dribble, how she creates her teammates,” she said. “She really is a terrific decision-maker and just a tough, tough defender.”
Also returning are junior guard Lily Phillips, who tallied 4.3 points and 1.4 assists per game in 2022-23 across an average of 20.4 minutes per outing, as well as fifth-year guard Fatima Lee, who averaged just 10.8 minutes per game albeit being a vocal leader on a nightly basis.
In a September interview, Lee described the newcoming Great Danes with excitement. “They’re like sponges, whatever we say they want to take in and [they’re] willing to learn,” she said.
UAlbany’s freshman additions include Deja Evans, a 6-2 forward who played at Archbishop Wood in Pennsylvania, Selina Monestime, a guard from Framington, MA, Ida Allberg, a guard with “years of experience on the Swedish national team” according to Mullen, Hailee Ford, a guard/forward who played at Concordia Preparatory High School in Maryland, and Jessica Cooper, a 6-foot forward who played at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in New Jersey.
Mullen hopes to see Evans add to UAlbany’s game as a “true center” along with Gabriela Falcão, a Portuguese sophomore center who transferred in from La Salle. “They give us a really different type of inside presence,” Mullen said. “It's going to be nice to have a little high-low game and be able to really play from the inside out.”
A dimension to this season which the Great Danes didn’t have in 2022-23 is a true home arena, with the newly renovated Broadview Arena now ready for play. “It's going to be a terrific venue for you know, fans and family to come out and see and watch,” Mullen said. “[There was] a lot of adversity not having a home gym last year and we're ready.”
UAlbany may have a different look this year, but Mullen thinks it’s a promising one, as the team looks to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in two years. “Right now, we've been focusing on building relationships, building trust with the new players, a good mixture of veterans and new players, and we're really coming along,” she said. “We have a lot of growing to do, but we're just focused on getting better every day.”