Stony Brook's women's basketball program made a quantum leap forward last season on the way to a 24-9 record, second-place finish in America East and second WNIT bid in school history. But with four returning starters and nine total returnees, the Seawolves can expect to get everyone's best shot this season.
New coach Caroline McCombs arrives with an impressive track record as an assistant for teams that reached the postseason 11 of the past 15 years, and she's determined to build on last season's progress.
"We'll have more of a bull's-eye on our back because of some of the accomplishments this team had," McCombs said. "We become more than just another game, and we have to be ready for that."
Despite the presence of starting forwards Sabre Proctor (14.4 points, 5.7 rebounds) and Brittany Snow (9.8, 5.3) and starting guards Jessica Ogunnorin (9.0, 7.2) and Miranda Jenkins (7.3, 3.9), McCombs said there are no "givens" about the starting lineup. She expects to make tough defense a trademark and would like to implement a press, which will require a deep bench to stay fresh.
"There's competition," McCombs said. "I want people to understand we want to play more than five players. If your role is coming off the bench, then that's what you need to do. But I don't want to pigeonhole anybody between my starters and my subs."
One key player who must step up is 5-5 sophomore point guard Kori Bayne-Walker (5.0, 2.7 assists), who provided a spark off the bench last season. But as McCombs noted, Bayne-Walker is being asked to fill the big sneakers of graduated Chikilra Goodman, who was conference defensive player of the year last season.
"This year is a lot about working on my leadership skills," Bayne-Walker said. "My team is really helping me get the confidence to get through that and just try to create stuff for the team."
While Bayne-Walker works on her floor general skills, McCombs said she expects to lean on seniors Proctor and Ogunnorin for leadership.
"I like Sabre's composure as a leader," McCombs said. "She's an excellent inside-out player. We want her to go out with a bang. This is hers and Jess' team. I want them to be vocal leaders."
McCombs praised Snow's work ethic and the emotional spark provided by Jenkins, who is 100 percent ready after recovering from a knee injury. Christa Scognamiglio, a 5-9 redshirt sophomore transfer from Fairfield, also is expected to play a prominent role as an outside shooter.
Defending America East champion Albany is the favorite once again, but Proctor said the Seawolves' goal is to overtake the Great Danes.
"I think we have a level of urgency," Proctor said. "We're not just playing to win games. We're playing to win a championship."