Women's basketball finding its identity

Jill Barrile photo: Junior Dana Banda is the floor leader for the Lakers. She has started all 16 games and leads the team with 4.6 assists per contest.Jill Barrile photo: Junior Dana Banda is the floor leader for the Lakers. She has started all 16 games and leads the team with 4.6 assists per contest.When a team starts 0-4, the outlook for the season generally isn’t a bright one. Or after suffering from the four losses, teams figure out who they are and turn it around.

The Mercyhurst women’s basketball team managed to turn it around.

After winning games against Kutztown and East Stroudsburg, the team’s fortune changed, and they won eight of their last 12 games.

The team is now 8-8 overall, losing their last three games to Slippery Rock, a buzzer-beating 57-56 loss to No. 25 Gannon and an overtime defeat to No. 18 Indiana (Pa).

Seniors Nikki Fredrickson, Megan Hoffman, Katie Carbee and junior Dana Banda have all been rising to the challenge for the Lakers this season, leading the team and helping them to bounce back.

“I really believe it was the senior leadership and confidence that made the change,” said Coach Deanna Richard. “When you feel good, you play good. This team is different. They just keep fighting. We have a lot of heart and passion, and it’s changing the culture of the team.”

Following a 15-15 record during the 2010-11 season, the team is showing great signs of improvement this season.

“Unlike years past, we don’t have one person that stands out. Everyone is stepping it up. It is not one person, everyone contributes. We’re a stronger, more cohesive team,” said Richard. “We all play together. The girls play as a unit more now.”

The Lakers are practicing hard, doing a lot of repetition and defensive drills, and their key strategy is having their defense run the offense.

“We’re confident in ourselves now; we have a well-conditioned team and it’s showing,” Richard said. “We are taking big shots, and we wear on other teams. We don’t play a big line-up, so other teams are usually mismatched trying to compete with our girls because they’re smaller and faster.”

“Our point guards are doing a tremendous job. We are getting a lot more opportunities on offense now,” she said.

The Lakers are currently tied for fifth place in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) West with Lock Haven. Only the top four teams from the PSAC West make the playoffs. California University, Edinboro, IUP and California (Pa) currently hold the top four spots, but it is still early in the season.

“(The) girls’ attitudes have changed for the better. We understand we don’t have to lose anymore and that it is not okay to make little mistakes. They are finally getting it, and little things have become habits now. They teach each other, and upperclassmen are really taking the reins,” Richard said.

The team is about to wrap up its first trip through the PSAC West schedule, with two games against Edinboro and Cal still remaining. These two games will be a big confidence builder as they head down the homestretch of their schedule.

The Lakers’ next home game is Wednesday, Feb. 1, against Lock Haven at 5:30 p.m. in the Mercyhurst Athletic Center.