Owls ready to fly

Westfield State's Kirsy Segarra shoots a 3 vs. WPI. (WSU File Photo)

Westfield State’s Kirsy Segarra shoots a 3 vs. WPI. (WSU File Photo)

WESTFIELD – After falling one win short of the NCAA Tournament last season, the Westfield State women’s basketball team enters the 2015-2016 season motivated to put itself back in position to secure an automatic bid.
Last season, the Owls went 12-0 in MASCAC play before falling to Bridgewater State in the conference tournament championship game. Westfield finished 24-6 overall and advanced to the ECAC New England Championship.
Westfield State opens its season in Saturday, November 14, playing Coast Guard Academy at the UMass Dartmouth Invitational at 2 p.m. The Owls will play either a consolation or championship game on Sunday, pending the results of Saturday’s game.
“We lost some pretty big personalities and a lot of talent from last season, obviously, so I think it’s important we find our identity early in the season,” Westfield State coach Andrea Bertini said. “I think we’ll see who is going to emerge and in what roles in our first few games.”
After losing MASCAC Player of the Year Jen Ashton to graduation, and being picked third in the MASCAC preseason coaches’ poll, the Owls are out to prove they are still among the league’s best.
“It’s certainly some motivation to our returners who are saying, ‘hey, we were on that team last year, we weren’t just a one-person show,'” Bertini said.
Though Ashton led the team in scoring and assists, the cupboard is far from bare; the Owls return first team All-Conference center Forbasaw Nkamebo (Amherst, Mass.) and second team guard Jill Valley (Orange, Mass.).
Nkamebo boasts an impressive combination of strength and speed for a frontcourt player. The 5-foot-10 senior center averaged 14.2 points per game and a team-leading 9.9 rebounds per game last season for the Owls.
“People don’t believe me when I tell them this, but she’s our fastest player end-line to end-line,” Bertini said. “She’s one of the best athletes we’ve ever had. She’s got great feet, she covers ground very quickly. She can wreak some havoc. When she’s playing fast, I think she’s at her best.”
Valley was third on the team in scoring, averaging 13 points per game, while boasting a true-shooting percentage of 57.2 percent. The 5-foot-4 junior guard also ranked second on the team in assists (77) and steals (54).
“This isn’t to take away from any of the kids I’ve coached in the past, but she’s the most talented open court kid I’ve ever had, so when she’s got the ball in space, it’s fun to watch,” Bertini said.
In order to play to the strengths of her top players, Bertini, the reigning MASCAC Coach of the Year, plans to push the pace offensively. After averaging nearly 73 possessions per game last season, the Owls hope to turn the speed up to another gear.
In order to run a successful up-tempo offense, Westfield State must rely on strong guard play and cleaning up the defensive glass to spark the transition.
With Nkamebo and sophomore center Rebecca Sapouckey (5.2 rebounds per game) returning, the Owls should boast two of the better rebounders in the league. Incoming freshmen Lauren Carnevale (Pittsfield, Mass.) and Kristen Swain (Bellingham, Mass.) should also help Westfield maintain its strong rebounding margin (+3.4) from last season.
With the departure of Ashton, who was a crucial playmaker for the Owls last season, junior guard Alyssa Darling will take on a bigger role as a creator and facilitator. Darling started 28 games last year, posting a 1.14-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. As the Owls leading returning three-point shooter, junior guard Kirsy Segarra will also play a key role in the backcourt.
After bringing in a strong class of nine freshmen, Bertini will rely more on her team’s depth than in past seasons. In addition to Carnevale and Swain, freshmen guards Kierra McCarthy (Ludlow, Mass.), Lucy Barrett (Williamstown, Mass.), and Allison Hester (Sutton, Mass.) could all crack the Owls’ rotation.
Barrett is an adept outside shooter who set the school record at Mount Greylock with more than 1,400 career points. Swain, a 6-foot-1 center, helped lead Bellingham High to its first two Central Mass. sectional titles in her junior and senior seasons.
“It’s going to be fun to see how it unfolds, and how we come together, and what kind of team we become,” Bertini said. “It’s less about how we play and more about our effort, enthusiasm, and attitude. If those are trending in a positive direction, I think we’ll have good results.” – Courtesy of Westfield State Sports

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