Niagara Gazette — LEWISTON — Slowly but surely over the past three seasons, the Niagara University women’s basketball team has crept toward breaking the .500 barrier for the first time since 2004-05.
After bottoming out with a one-win campaign in 2010-11, head coach Kendra Faustin’s Purple Eagles have increased their win totals to 13 and 15, respectively, in each of the past two seasons. They’ve gone 9-9 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference both years, advancing the semifinals of the conference tournament before being bounced by the eight-time repeating champion Marist Red Foxes each time.
Last season’s 15 wins were the most ever in Faustin’s seven years atop the program. This year, she’s installed an up-tempo offense with the hope that taking advantage of her team’s athleticism will push NU to new heights. The Purple Eagles will unveil their new look at 7 p.m. tonight when they host Lehigh in their season opener.
“We’re a different team, so there are a lot of new challenges, but they’re a lot of exciting challenges,” Faustin said. “I’ve got a great group to coach and a lot of wonderful young women that I enjoy being around.”
Gone are mainstays in center Lauren Gatto and guard Kayla Stroman, one of whom has led the team in scoring each of the past three years. Replacing them will be 6-foot-4 junior transfer Donisha Watson (Monroe Community College) and a trio of sophomore guards in Vanessa Neal, Taylor McKay and Sylvia Maxwell.
While it will be difficult to replace Gatto’s and Stroman’s production, Faustin is excited about the potential of their replacements.
“Our sophomore class is (a group of) really talented, athletic guards. Our offense allows them to be creative,” Faustin said. “Watson is pretty athletic and does some things defensively that we’ve never had a player in our program do.