Robert Morris women counting on young players to take next step
On Friday, Robert Morris women’s basketball players and staff went to an “escape room” for a team-bonding activity. The group split into three teams, and all three escaped in the allotted time.
Since Charlie Buscaglia took over as coach before the 2016-17 season, each of his three teams has escaped the Northeast Conference with a regular-season and/or tournament title. Buscaglia and the Colonials will begin their quest to make it 4 for 4 when they open the 2019-20 season Tuesday at TCU.
Last season’s team (22-11, 16-2 NEC) relied heavily on freshmen and sophomores. Those players will be counted on to take another step.
“A year older, you’ve got to get a year wiser and a year tougher and a year better,” Buscaglia said. “A sophomore slump … you have to avoid that. Now that the competition knows you a little better, you have to continue to grow.”
Guards Isabella Posset (Beaver) and Esther Castedo are two of those sophomores who will be asked to do more. Posset averaged 7.6 points and had team highs with 89 assists and 62 steals, and Castedo averaged 6.2 points and shot 36.4% from 3-point range.
Juniors Nina Augustin, Ire Ozzy-Momodou and Honoka Ikematsu will help form the core leadership group. Augustin averaged 7.5 points and shot 41.9% on 3s. Ozzy-Momodou averaged 6.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and shot 57.3% from the floor. Ikematsu averaged 7.0 points.
“We had really strong leaders last year,” said Augustin, a native of Finland. “I feel like coming into this year, there was this void we have to fill, even our sophomores. They have to step up and take leadership with the juniors and seniors.”
Make that senior, singular. The Colonials have only one, but she is among the best players in the NEC: Nneka Ezeigbo, who averaged 12.5 points and 7.8 rebounds, was the NEC Defensive Player of the Year and NEC Tournament MVP.
Dominant at times, Ezeigbo must become more consistent, Buscaglia said.
“Consistency wasn’t always there,” he said. “A big game, then a game that wasn’t so good. Now we’re working on that consistency, and that really is the mark of a dominant player.”
Defense has been a staple of Buscaglia’s teams. Last season, Robert Morris led the NEC in scoring defense (55.3 points) and steals (9.9).
That typically led to the Colonials grinding out wins in low-scoring games. But Augustin said there has been more focus in practice on playing quicker when the opportunities present themselves.
“Pushing the ball, keeping the tempo high, getting early attacks,” she said, “that’s something I feel like has been a big emphasis this year.”
The Colonials were picked to repeat as NEC champions. That has become the expectation — externally and internally. The trophies that sit throughout the shiny, new halls of UPMC Events Center reflect that.
Having that type of pressure every season can be daunting, but, Augustin said, she and her teammates tune out all of the noise and stay focused on their mission.
“We shouldn’t think about outside pressure or we’re ranked this and that,” she said. “Just come to work every day and just try to compete against each other rather than the outside pressure.
“I think we’re so locked in to what we’re doing every day. … We focus on what we do and not what the other team is doing.”
Chuck Curti is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chuck by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .