Expectations are riding high these days on the campus of the University of Delaware, where the women’s basketball team returns five starters from a unit that went and won the first postseason game in the history of the school. The result is the first preseason top-10 ranking in program history, and dreams of a deep trip into the NCAA tournament.
Hens head coach Tina Martin acknowledges the pieces are there for a special season, but there is work to be done to get where her team hopes to go.
“We’ve got to bring our group together,” Martin said at CAA Media Day in October. “We’ve got six seniors that everyone is talking about and certainly our starting five is back. However, we also have six first-year players. So half the team is young, half the team is old and we have to mesh that together.”
Two freshmen in particular will be key to Delaware’s hopes for another magical run. Jade Clark and Courtney Green each have an opportunity to play significant minutes for a top-10 team. It is certainly a lot to ask of a player less than a year removed from high school, particularly considering Clark missed much of last season with an injury.
“Jade Clark is coming off of a knee injury, but she’s coming along and can help us with rebounding and by knocking down 10-to-15 foot jump shots,” Martin said. The coach also explained her expectations for Green. “I think she shoots the ball very well and can really help us.”
Anytime freshmen hit the floor, their play on the defensive end becomes a concern. That’s no different for this Delaware team, which Martin thinks will go as far as its defense can take it.
“The biggest key will be defense again,” Martin said. “We’ve got to really put all of our effort onto the defensive end of the floor. That makes us go and get some easy transition points.”
It has been well documented what senior All-American Elena Delle Donne brings to the table, but even though she led the nation in scoring last season, the Hens know they need production from more than just their star to accomplish their goals.
One Hen who may not get the credit she deserves (Martin and the coaching staff were outraged when she was not named All-CAA last season) is senior power forward Danielle Parker. She excels at doing things which may not always show up on the stats sheet, but that always have a direct impact on the contest’s final outcome.
“I think Danielle Parker might be the most underrated player in the CAA,” Martin said. “She’s a kid that does all the dirty work for us, rebounding the ball, defends the best post player overall and is just really a tough-minded individual. She’s a big key for us.”
Another huge key will be Lauren Carra. The senior guard was Delaware’s best perimeter defender a season ago. She is also the Hens’ best backcourt scorer and one of their most effective spot-up shooters.
“Lauren Carra is our three-point shooter,” Martin said. “She has to shoot the ball again well.”
Trumae Lucas and Kayla Miller will share the point guard duties. Both players have had to deal with significant injuries during their Delaware careers, but are hoping for healthy senior seasons. If the injury bug avoids them both, the Hens can expect incredible leadership, great decision-making and even some timely offense. Miller, in particular, has worked incredibly hard to rebuild her jumper during the offseason. Expect her to let more shots fly this season.
With all this talent on hand, it’s only appropriate that the Hens challenge themselves with their non-conference schedule. Delaware will face Maryland, St. John’s and St. Bonaventure before CAA play begins. Martin’s team also has a chance to face Georgetown and North Carolina in the preseason WNIT.
“The bottom line is you want to play against really good teams,” the head coach explains. “The WNIT coming up is big for our team because right away we’re playing great competition. I feel like these seniors need to be challenged immediately to see where we’re at.”
“The non-conference portion will get us ready for the CAA and certainly having that kind of competition across the board, from non-conference to CAA competition, will help us come NCAA time hopefully.”
The first two rounds of that NCAA Tournament will be played in Newark. If the Hens go dancing (which they will) they will not have to leave the Carpenter Center to advance to the sweet 16. Two wins in the big dance would be a great season for Delaware. Anything more would be the perfect ending to this once-in-a-lifetime stretch for Tina Martin’s team.