Richmond, VA— It did not take long for Massachusetts women’s basketball coach Tory Verdi to sent a tweet regarding his team’s season-ending 91-51 defeat to Saint Louis in first round Atlantic 10 Championship play.
I apologize for the embarrassing performance this afternoon. I promise you, that we will look much different next year! #WeWillWin
— Tory Verdi (@CoachVerdiUMass) February 26, 2017
It is no secret that UMass was shorthanded last year and the team had some positive moments last season,
“Obviously we weren’t happy with the outcome last year,” Verdi said. “We’re going to do everything necessary as coaches, and players to make sure we are never in that situation again. It’s not acceptable and here are my expectations. My expectations are to catapult this program, move this program and never be in that position again.”
The most noticeable difference in UMass this season is its roster which is now up to 11. No longer does senior center Maggie Mulligan have to play 40 minute games.
“We’ll be greatly improved from a year ago,” said Verdi. “We have depth, skillset and players who belong at this level, who can play at this level. We have four returners from a year ago and we added seven new players. We’re putting players on the floor that can do something with the ball. Last year was frustrating because at times, we had Maggie Mulligan double-teamed and Hailey Leidel is a 3-point shooter and everybody else was sagged off of, so it was really hard to score.
“This year we are putting five players on the floor who can all score the ball. I like the players we brought in, we have changed the culture of the program, which was something that is important. One of the reasons I took this job is to win a championship. Those are our expectations from our administrators, those are my expectations, but there is a process and we’re moving this process right along.”
UMass is not the only ones to buy into this culture change as the Atlantic 10 Preseason Poll has the Minutewomen placed 10th.
“I think the culture before I came was that the University of Massachusetts is a really nice place to go to school,” Verdi said. “Social life was really important. It wasn’t about women’s basketball or winning championships. We did what we had to do and that was it. Now the expectations are that we need to go above and beyond and our players are doing that. They have invested themselves in the gym throughout the summer, during the preseason and now as well. They are continuing to grow, but they understand what it takes to win championships and it’s not easy. We’ve pushed them to get them out of their comfort zones. I tell our players to be comfortable being uncomfortable and they’ve figured that out.”
As Verdi stated earlier, Leidel and Mulligan are UMass’s key returners.
Leidel averaged 15.5 points per game and made 78 3-point baskets, more than twice the amount of Alyx Stiff, who was second on the team in that statistic. She was named to the Atlantic 10 Preseason All-Conference Second Team.
Mulligan had 20 double-doubles last season, good for sixth in the NCAA and was selected to the Atlantic 10 Preseason All-Conference Third Team.
The other two returners to this year’s UMass team are senior Leah McDerment (6.2 ppg/3.5 rpg/157 assists) and junior Jessica George (2.7 ppg/3.0 rpg).
One freshman expected to make a big impact right away is Bre Hampton-Bey, a 5-foot-6 freshman guard from Toledo, OH.
“Bre was highly recruited,” said Verdi. “She is dynamic, strong, competitive, can score and will be our catalyst. Bre is very athletic and has a great change of speed. She will really move things for us at the point guard which means Hailey can move to the 2 guard now.”
Verdi also mentioned junior guard forward Genesis Rivera from Venezuela. The 5-foot-11 Rivera previously attended Panola college and Verdi called her “a tremendous athlete that is a scorer at all three levels.”
Freshman guard Paige McCormick if also 5-foot-11 and offers both versatility and competitiveness while also being able to score the basketball. This is sorely needed since UMass averaged 57.0 points per game.
Though there are some injuries among the post players, Verdi is optimistic about his team and how far it already has come.
“Last year, we knew every single night that teams we were playing, their rosters were better than ours,” he said. “We had to be strategic. I’m really proud of what last year’s team did with what we had, we were competitive every single night. There may have been three games where we weren’t but the rest of the A-10 schedule, we were very competitive. When you’re playing five players and you can’t sub out, it gets really tricky and difficult. Now we are looking to take this team and move it in the right direction.”