The Gannon University women’s basketball team is coming off a stellar season that ended with a loss to Ashland University in the NCAA Division II Elite Eight, which was held in March in San Antonio.
During the offseason, Jim Brunelli was named the new women’s basketball coach, giving the team its ninth head coach in the program’s 40-year history. Brunelli will aim to repeat the success from last season, starting against a dominant foe and champion.
The Knights kick off their season with an exhibition game in Storrs, Conn., at 7 p.m. Friday against the NCAA Division I champion University of Connecticut Huskies with legendary coach Geno Auriemma leading his team from the sideline.
Auriemma tied former Tennessee Lady Volunteers coach Pat Summit with eight national championships when his team routed the No. 5 Louisville Cardinals on April 9 in the title game, 93-60.
Many college sports programs choose to play an exhibition game against an opponent that they feel will be an easy victory to start the season off, and this experience is viewed as an opportunity to work on offensive and defensive schemes to ensure that the team is prepared for regular season action.
I’m not trying to say that Gannon doesn’t have a chance in the matchup. I’m just pointing out the fact that UC beat the second best Division I athletics team by 33 points in its last game.
I’m also not trying to degrade all Division II athletics because many premiere athletes are participating at this level. The experience of seeing firsthand how a national championship team handles itself could be very beneficial.
Senior point guard Kelley Sundberg said she was not nervous to take on UC and added that she felt anxious to start the Knights’ campaign back to the Elite Eight because of all the hard work the team has put in during the offseason.
“They all might be half of a foot taller than me and bench twice as much as me, but when I leave UC I want my teammates to know that we will not be out-worked,” Sundberg said.
I wouldn’t expect any athlete to say that they are worried about being trounced by the best team in the nation, but to say that you won’t have butterflies in your stomach would be a lie.
The lessons that the Knights hope they will be able to take away from the experience will have to be weighed against possible problems with confidence. The mental aspect of basketball is just as important as the physical component to the game.
Last season, the Huskies blew the College of Charleston Cougars out of the arena, 103-39, to start their season. Charleston is a Division I athletic program that is a member of the Colonial Athletic Association.
I’m not so sure how the Knights would respond if they were in a similar situation and lost the game by about 60 points. Charleston was able to respond in its following game with a 72-62 victory over East Carolina University, which shines a positive light on the reasoning behind playing this game.
The UC matchup will give each member of the Knights a great story to tell their grandchildren because they were able to share the court with a Division I national championship team, but I don’t know if they will be willing to share the outcome.
I wouldn’t want to start a new era as a coach with a massive defeat, but the game will have to be viewed as a learning experience. Another positive note that can be taken away from the game is that the Knights will not have to face the Huskies or another team of that caliber for the remainder of the season.
Gannon begins its regular season schedule with a home matchup against Walsh University at 7 p.m. on Nov. 13 in the Hammermill Center.