For the Husson University women’s basketball team, it is the Year 1 AS (After Shelby).
Even in the wake of the departure of Shelby (Pickering) Bradford, one of the Eagles’ all-time greats, 19th-year coach Kissy Walker’s team has significant experience returning as it tries to defend its first North Atlantic Conference championship.
Husson is off to an 0-2 start, but again has taken on a challenging nonleague schedule to prepare for the start of conference play in January.
“We’ve done that for the past three years,” Walker said of the schedule. “I don’t think they panic. They know it’s to get us ready.”
Husson (19-9 last season) return three full-time starters in junior forward Bri Hanscom of Mattawamkeag (15 ppg, 7 rpg, 2.5 apg in two games), senior guard Bethany Sevey of Skowhegan (7 ppg, 5 rpg) and junior guard Amanda Gifford of Lee (7.5 ppg, 4 rpg).
The Eagles also have two other proven veterans in senior shooting guard Noelle Lincoln of Dixmont (11.5 ppg, 2.0 apg) and junior point guard Caitlyn Butterfield of Gorham (3 ppg, 4 rpg).
“Bri and Bethany and Noelle, when that group is together they feed off each other pretty well,” said Walker, who is starting both Gifford and Butterfield.
Sophomore guard Kelli Murray of Shawmut (3.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg) and junior guard Marissa Albert of Fort Kent (2 ppg, 2 rpg) look to expand their roles.
“Kelli’s pretty versatile,” Walker said. “Marissa started to come on at the end of last year.”
Husson, picked to finish first in the NAC preseason coaches poll, should have enough depth to be able to play more aggressive defense and sustain it.
“We’re going to be able to press,” Walker said. “Those two (Butterfield and Gifford) change the way we play defensively.”
Sevey and Lincoln are among a versatile group of guards that has shown the ability to shoot the 3-pointer, while Gifford is a good shooter and can attack the basket off the dribble.
“We’ve got some good shooters, good quickness,” said Walker, who has installed a new, motion-oriented offense.
“We’re going to have to be in good shape and I think teams playing against us will have to be as well,” she added.
Even at 5-foot-9, Hanscom will be a key threat inside because of her slippery moves and tenacity going to the hoop. She will be complemented by a bigger post presence in 6-foot freshman Stephanie Comstock of Bangor (10 ppg, 4 rpg), who appears ready to make the jump to a more physical college game.
“If she can stay healthy, I expect great things from her,” Walker said of Comstock. “She’s physically, by far, the strongest player we have on our team.”
The guard-heavy Eagles also likely will need contributions in the frontcourt from freshman forward Haley McGee of Fairfield.
“She’s got some pretty good skills and a good, quick, first step,” Walker said.
Husson’s roster includes sophomore Megan Murray of Embden and freshmen Sara Carroll of Bar Harbor, Gab Duke of Rockport, Vanessa Sanderson of Houlton and Lacey Massengale of Warren.
The Eagles return to action Monday with a 7 p.m. home game against Bates College of Lewiston.