The Tufts women’s basketball team is back and ready to build game by game. The Jumbos finished their tremendous season last March with an overall record of 30–3. Tufts fell in the national championship game to Amherst, the team that handed them their only three losses of the season. While coming just short of a national title was a heartbreaking finale to the team’s season, senior co-captain guard Lauren Dillon reported that the team is not focusing on where it ended last spring, and is instead focused on what is in front of it this season.
“We don’t talk about [the loss] at all,” Dillon said. “It’s like a clean slate. All of us that were there have a bad taste in our mouths from it, and its fueling us individually, but it is not something that is driving us.”
This will be Dillon’s second consecutive year leading the team in her co-captain role, and the senior shared that she feels prepared to guide the Jumbos through the season, especially with her previous year of experience.
“I think having one season [as co-captain] under my belt is definitely helpful,” Dillon said. “I feel more confident in that I know what to do since I have already done it. This year I just feel like I’m one step ahead, and [that I] know what’s coming and how best to lead the team.”
Tufts worked hard this fall and enters the season ranked No.1 by D3hoops. Since the Jumbos returned from summer break, they have been busy in the gym between captain-run practices and conditioning sessions. After graduating three seniors, including Tufts’ all-time scoring leader Michela North (LA ’17), the team worked on filling the holes its departing members left. Another large part of the work leading up to the season has been about teaching the team’s six first-years how to play Tufts basketball. Some of the new faces have been nursing injuries, but they have still had a strong vocal presence at practices. As for the first-years who have been on the court, Dillon shared she has been particularly impressed with their ability to learn quickly.
“The [first-years] that have been on the sidelines have been doing a great job staying involved, and being positive and loud for the rest of the team,” Dillon said. “The [first-years] that are out on the floor have been picking up things really fast. I think the sophomores, juniors and seniors are doing a good job helping them out. Overall we’ve been getting through the things we need to get through really quickly because [the first-years] are really good at picking things up. I think they will do big things this season.”
Junior guard Jac Knapp noted that the team has benefited from individual efforts made by the returners this summer to improve aspects of their game. As a result of these improvements, the team has set a high bar at practices, which has helped the first-years understand the team’s dynamic.
“Over the summer, all the returners took a step forward, whether it be in their fitness or their game,” Knapp said. “I think it [has] been really helpful for the [first-years] because we have set the tone, and we’re helping them along the way. Everybody was willing to put the work in this summer, and it’s showing.”
Coach Carla Berube was also impressed with the team’s efforts leading up to its season and was very satisfied with what she saw on Nov. 1 for Tufts’ first official practice of the season.
“[I am] very pleased with their offseason work and preseason work in the gym,” Berube said. “Come November 1 it wasn’t like they were brand new to each other. They’ve been working hard and working together for [the] two months they’ve been on campus. We haven’t had to work on getting into shape because they’re in really good shape right now. It’s been [about] us just getting reps in offensively and working on our defense in [this] first week and a half of practice.”
The first-years have also pleased Berube, and she shared that, while a lot remains to be seen, she is happy with where they are at now.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what [the first-years] can give to us,” Berube said. “I think they are getting better day in and day out. They are doing a good job of working hard and soaking it all in and trying to transfer what we’re teaching them to the five versus five setting. That’s all you can ask for, that they bring that work ethic and communicate.”
While many certainly expect that the Jumbos’ season will continue through March, Knapp shared that the team will be embracing the opportunity each individual game offers for growth, instead of just looking down the road.
“We’re going to take it game by game,” Knapp said. “We want to make sure we don’t overlook any opponents or any games, and these first few games are really important … for us to get better and keep improving. Coach [Berube] always said it last year: we start at the bottom and we keep climbing and climbing, and after every single game, we want to be a little higher up; we want to have gotten better.”
Tufts looks to begin its ascension this Friday at 7:30 p.m. against Roger Williams, before taking on Regis College on Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Tufts University Tip-Off Tournament.
And as for what may lie ahead in March:
“We know what we want,” Knapp said. “And we know that we’re going to have to work hard to get it.”