From 2009 through 2012, the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds won more games, 62, than they have over any three-year stretch in the program’s history and won 21 games, and went 11-1 in non-conference games in 2011-12. As it goes with college basketball though, that squad moved on and last year’s team, which had five new players, struggled and finished with a 7-22 record overall and were just 4-14 in Northeast Conference play.
Coming into this season there has been even more turnover as there are six new players joining the Blackbirds this year. Head coach Gail Striegler admits that it’s going to be tough again, but said that going through such a big transition last year will only help them this time around.
“I think we’re definitely doing it different,” Striegler said of how she plans on preparing the new players this season. “I tried to get through too much stuff last year and I don’t think that we got good at anything. This season we want to keep things simpler. Instead of showing them four different presses right away, we’ll try two. That way instead of struggling to do everything, they can be very good at a few things.
“Last year I think I kind of forgot that with that many new kids you have to do it that way. I’ve tried to go back to how I did things my very first year.”
On top of that, the Blackbirds got a head start, compared to a year before, on getting everyone to practice and working on chemistry more. Fourth-year senior Cleandra Roberts explained that she expects that to make a big difference.
“We didn’t have great chemistry so we had to start early this year,” Roberts explained. “We have five freshmen and one transfer so starting early gave us a better idea of what their game is like and how this is going to fit together. We have a better understanding of how everyone plays. It’s all coming together.”
The Blackbirds were picked to finish eighth in a preseason coaches poll. They lose guard Krystal Wells, who averaged 10.1 points per game last year, and center Tamika Guz, who averaged 10.5 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, but starters Kelly Robinson, Letava Whippy, Roberts and Fanny Cavallo are back.
Striegler is excited by some of the newcomers, especially Aleisha Myers, whom she expects will be among the starting five. Myers is one of two incoming freshmen, the other being Demi Tomlinson, that just arrived from Australia. The Australian game is a bit different from the American version, but Roberts explained that they have strong fundamentals and are adapting quickly. The best thing is that they are fitting in quickly.
“Sometimes they talk and it’s like, ‘what, can you say that again,’” Roberts joked. “It’s also fun to try to do their accents. They’re very talented though and are fitting right in.
“Myers is basically a shooter that can drive also. She’s just got a spark that I love. She’s always running the floor and does a lot of little things and that’s the kind of player that every team needs to get to the next level.”
While Striegler has been more patient with the team than in the past, she does expect that they will eventually turn into solid players and hopes that by Christmas the team has built up some chemistry.
“It’s going to take time,” Striegler said. “You always say that you want to be ready by the time conference starts. We’ll have eight or nine games under our belts by that time. That should be enough time to improve. All the new people have opportunities to play, and I mean everybody even the upperclassmen. The starting five, and our sixth and maybe seventh person are fairly set, but we expect that we’re going to use at least nine or 10 in our rotation.
“They are so young that they are good one day and bad another. We have to see who steps up and that takes time, playing and seeing who does well in game situations. It’s about who can adapt and pick it up the fastest. We also have to see what they do well and how we can use them.”
The Blackbirds open their season with a lot of home games this year. Their first game will be on Friday, Nov. 8 at home against Columbia. Including that game, seven of their first game games will be at the Steinberg Wellness Center in Brooklyn. So there will be plenty of time to catch them in action. Also, be sure to check back here as the Brooklyn Eagle will be following them all season.