The Central Connecticut State women's basketball team is off and running as its 2021-22 season began last week with a 87-50 loss to Massachusetts.
The Blue Devils dropped its next game to Quinnipiac to start the year 0-2, however the early results haven't dampened interim head coach Kerri Reaves' outlook on the season.
“I'm really excited,” Reaves said. “Compared to last year we have a little more talent at each position. It's been a fun-filled experience trying to match six new kids with nine returners. I love each one of our kids dearly and they continue to work hard every day.”
Following a covid-shortened schedule last year, CCSU is back to its regular routine this year with 28 games spread out over five months. During the 2020-21 season, the Blue Devils went 4-14, but Reaves hopes her first normal season as interim head coach will feature a fresh product on the court.
“Kind of the direction we're going in is a more up-tempo style of basketball,” Reaves said. “We want to take the first shot in the offensive end and lead the league in free throws and rebounding. That's a goal for us. We're also trying to create positive situations on defense and we've kind of recruited those types of student athletes to our program.”
Four freshmen were brought in by CCSU this season as Amaya Williams, Emma Bruen, Nina Davy and Arayana Young join a well-balanced roster from an experience standpoint.
“With having four freshmen coming in this year with five seniors, we have a good mix of experience and players trying to learn the game of basketball at the collegiate level,” Reaves said.
Captains Forever Toppin, Belle Lanpher and Meghan Kenefick will be looked on to lead this group of Blue Devils while Reaves also singled out senior Ashley Berube as another important player on this squad. Berube only played in four games a year ago before suffering a season-ending injury, but has looked strong in her return this season with 31 combined points through CCSU's first two contests.
Toppin was named the Northeast Conference Most Improved Player in 2020-21 and Reaves said the junior motivates her teammates with her work ethic.
While NEC play won't begin for another or so, Reaves offered her take on what the rest of the conference will offer.
“I think the talent overall in our conference has gotten better from this year to last year,” Reaves said. “It's always a battle every time you go on the court in the NEC. It's always ultra competitive.”
Mount Saint Mary's earned the top spot unanimously in the NEC preseason coaches poll while the Blue Devils were predicted to finish in last place.
Next up for CCSU is a road matchup with Brown on Thursday. The Blue Devils haven't seen the Bears since the 2019-20 season, but they expect to see a hungry team at Pizzitola Sports Center.
“It's our second road trip, they're a really physical, hard-nosed team,” Reaves said. “We have to be ready to out-rebound them. We didn't play them last year and they're going to bring that intensity and we have to match it.”
Tip-off is set for 6 p.m.
Ryan Ames can be reached at 860-801-5094 or on Twitter @_RyanAmes.