TOWSON, Md. — When Goucher takes the court for its home and season opener against Valley Forge tomorrow afternoon, more than half of head coach Didi Cotton's squad will be making their Gopher debuts.
Despite that inexperience, Cotton likes what she has seen from her team thus far, particularly from an attitude standpoint, as the Gophers look to rebound from a season filled with frustrating setbacks.
"The most important thing that I'm excited about with this group, particularly the newcomers, is that they are very hungry," the 10th-year coach said. "They're not interested in repeating anything that the program has seen in the past, and when you have kids come in with that kind of mindset I think we can do nothing but get better."
Goucher is coming off a 6-18 season which saw only a pair of victories in Landmark play, both over Merchant Marine. The Gophers, though, had several opportunities to add to that win total, taking both Drew and Juniata to overtime while suffering single-digit defeats to Moravian and Catholic, both of whom advanced to postseason play.
"Last year was kind of bittersweet," Cotton remarked. "We positioned ourselves to win quite a few games but just weren't able to close them out. It's a positive thing because as a coach and as a program we see that we're getting there. We just need a few more pieces."
Freshman Briana Bull (Baltimore, Md./Owings Mills) and sophomore transfer Jaida Scarborough (Baltimore, Md./Digital Harbor) are among a group of six new faces which will aim to account for some of those needed pieces referenced by Cotton. Goucher will also benefit with the return of Adrienne Flowers (Columbia, Md./St. Vincent Pallotti) for her senior season after she missed her junior campaign due to injury.
The Gophers will need contributions from the entire roster to make up for the loss of seniors Sharnell Huff and Precious Kollock. Huff earned Second-Team All-Landmark recognition after leading the conference in made 3-pointers, and she eclipsed the 1,000 point barrier for her career after averaging 16.6 points per game in 2013-14.
"I never look to one player to try to replace someone like Sharnell or anyone who has been an all-conference performer," Cotton said. "It's important for the whole team to step up, and I'm confident that everyone on our roster has the ability to make a difference on any given day. I'm not a big believer in carrying players just to have numbers."
Junior center Amaka Ezeani (Silver Spring, Md./Paint Branch) headlines the group of four returners from the 2013-14 team. Ezeani averaged 11.9 points per game while making 54.9 percent of her shots from the field, the second-highest shooting percentage in the Landmark. She scored in double figures in eight of her 13 conference appearances, including a trio of 20-point performances against Landmark foes.
"Amaka's biggest thing is putting in the work to get to the next level," Cotton said. "She has to continue to build on her foundation and her skillset. When she is on her game, she can be unstoppable. Everybody knows that, she just has to have confidence in herself."
Monique Welch (Reisterstown, Md./Franklin), Olivia Nono (Silver Spring, Md./Montgomery Blair) and India Perkins (Brentwood, Md./Bladensburg), who each started double-digit games for Goucher last season, will also be back for their junior years, with Nono and Perkins serving as team captains.
After Saturday's 2 p.m. opener against Valley Forge, the Gophers will have four more non-conference tilts before beginning their rigorous Landmark schedule at Moravian on Dec. 3. A key point of emphasis for Cotton and her coaching staff this season is for her team to compete at a similar work rate regardless of the competition.
"We want to come out and establish our own standard," she said. "We don't want to have to try to get up for our games against Landmark playoff teams or worry about playing down to our opponent in games where we might be favored.
"The three things I always talk about are discipline, consistency and execution," Cotton concluded. "If we can do those things, I think we'll be right where we want to be and people will be excited to come out and see us play."