Women's basketball preview: IUP, Cal (Pa.) likely to fight it out in PSAC West and beyond
The schedule says the IUP and Cal (Pa.) women's basketball teams will play twice this season.
There's a good chance that number will increase by at least one.
The PSAC blue bloods and rivals have met in the past two conference championship games — with each team winning once — and a matchup in the NCAA Division II Tournament also is a possibility.
“There's no love lost between the two programs, but it's because both programs have been so successful,” Cal coach Jess Strom said.
The Vulcans have won eight of the past 10 meetings, but the Crimson Hawks were picked to finish first in the West in the coaches' preseason poll. That's because IUP returns all five starters from last season's PSAC championship team.
“We know how really good the PSAC is and how close it was last year,” said Crimson Hawks coach Tom McConnell, whose team went 24-7 and lost in the second round of NCAAs. “We talk to the team about the difference between assuming and expecting and believing. Just because something happened last year, there's no guarantee this year. It's a new challenge, a new journey.”
Three IUP players received second-team All-PSAC honors last season: junior point guard Carolyn Appleby (14.7 points, 3.5 assists), senior guard/forward Megan Smith (14.1 points, 5.5 rebounds) and redshirt junior guard Lauren Wolosik (12.5 points, 3.1 assists).
“We all are kind of used to each other and how we kind of play and our tendencies,” said Appleby, a Greensburg Central Catholic graduate. “I think we know what each one of us is going to do at pretty much every moment.”
IUP was picked sixth in the D2SIDA Media National preseason poll, but McConnell said he doesn't expect overconfidence to be a problem, not after a 108-40 loss to No. 5 Notre Dame in an exhibition game Wednesday.
“I think it was good for us to be humbled, to say, ‘You know what, we got a long way to go,' ” McConnell said.
The same could be said of Cal, which for the first time in four years won't have Miki Glenn starting at point guard. She graduated as one of the most decorated players in conference history, earning PSAC West Player of the Year twice, All-American honors twice and led the Vulcans to the national title in 2014-15.
“Miki, I think, was the face of Cal U for a lot of years,” Strom said. “But I think once you start practice, you get used to it. This is this year's team.”
Cal, which went 30-4 last winter and reached the third round of the NCAA Tournament, returns three starters. The group is highlighted by 6-foot senior forward Seairra Barrett, a Central Valley product who was named honorable mention All-American and first-team All-PSAC West last season after averaging 18.6 points and 6.8 rebounds.
“She has arrived,” Strom said. “She knows what she needs to do. For us — defensively, rebounding, talking — she has been really big for us.”
Barrett and senior forward Shatara Parsons (13.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.4 blocks) are the only remaining players from the national championship team.
Junior guard and Elizabeth Forward graduate Abbey Sporio averaged 8.6 points and ranked second in the PSAC with 3.0 steals as a part-time starter last season.
Although Sporio filled in for Glenn after an injury in the postseason last winter, Strom said she prefers Sporio play on the wing. And with Barrett expected to miss the beginning of the season as she recovers from shoulder surgery, Sporio said she's ready for a bigger offensive role.
“What I do on offense is going to be vital,” Sporio said. “Last year, I didn't even try to score that much. Every day in practice this season, I'm not looking to pass as much. I'm looking to take control.”
And despite losing Glenn, Strom said she doesn't expect her team to lose control as one of the top teams in the conference. Her expectations of reaching the NCAA Tournament won't change.
“Yeah, we lost a lot, but I think there's a lot we still have to offer, and we added some really good pieces,” Strom said. “We know what it takes.”
Jeff Vella is a staff writer for the Tribune-Review. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JeffVella_Trib.