Women’s basketball off to a strong start with weekend sweep

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Sophomore forward Natalie Kucowski backs down a defender in the post. She recorded a double-double in each of the teams first two games, both victories.(Photo courtesy of Athletic Communications)

Craig Barbaro

The women’s basketball team is off to a hot start after wins over Binghamton and Fairleigh Dickinson this past weekend. Led by second-year head coach Kia Damon-Olson, the team has found their groove early in the season. The Leopards don’t start Patriot League play until early January, but the team is capitalizing on their non-conference schedule so far.

The Leopard’s first game of the season was at Fairleigh Dickinson last Friday. They took care of business early before staving off a comeback attempt by the Knights en route to a 63-57 victory. Sophomore forward Natalie Kucowski led the offensive charge with 29 points and 16 rebounds on an efficient 11-15 shooting from the field. Kucowski described how the team’s hot start is “exciting considering how we started last year.”

“[The game] was definitely a confidence booster going into league play and looking at our next game,” Kucowski added.

The team jumped out to a 12-5 lead before FDU was forced to call timeout. The Leopards led 18-10 after the opening quarter, and finished the first half up by nine points. The Leopards struggled mightily in the second half, as FDU went on a 20-5 run and took a 45-43 lead into the fourth quarter. Lafayette started the fourth quarter strong and took a 51-47 lead before FDU called timeout with 6:23 remaining. The Leopards played strong down the stretch to clinch the 63-57 win.

Four freshmen, guards Nicole Johnson, Makaila Wilson, and Jiselle Havas, and forward Naomi Ganpo, and one junior, guard Sydney Sabino, made their debuts for the Leopards in the win. Johnson, Wilson, Havas and Ganpo all scored their first collegiate points as well. Having young players with big roles isn’t a new concept for the team.

“It resembles last year when we started a lot of freshmen. Having two new frosh in the lineup emphasizes the leadership role the rest of the team has to take,” said Kucowski, who has stepped into a leadership role herself. “Last year I got a lot of game-time experience. This year I have the ability to be more aware of game situations. I’ve learned from my mistakes last year so I don’t repeat mistakes or find myself in the same situations as last year.”

In their game against Binghamton, the Leopards got off to a much slower start before a second half surge resulted in a 59-50 win. Sophomore guard Drew Freeland led the team with 16 points and a career-high four three pointers, while Kucowski put up her second double-double in just as many games with 14 points, 13 rebounds, and two assists.

Freeland felt “pretty good,” about her performance, and referenced the group effort leading to their early success.

“I felt like the team played really well and everyone has done a good job filling their roles,” she added.

The Leopards struggled in the first quarter, shooting only 17 percent from the field and trailing 16-10 heading into the second. The team took control in the second quarter, outscoring Binghamton 12-6 and tying the game at 22 heading into the half.

Lafayette came out strong in the third quarter, taking a 27-22 lead heading into the final frame before outscoring Binghamton 14-13 in the fourth to clinch the 59-50 win.

The team’s defense was strong in the outing, holding Binghamton to just 3-of-23 shooting from 3-point range and 29 percent from the field overall. Despite the encouraging start, the players are not content with their recent play and look to continue improving.

“We’re not at our peak yet,” Freeland said. “We’re playing good basketball, but we’re continually getting better each practice and every game.”

The lady Leopards will take on Wagner College tomorrow at 1 p.m. at Wagner.