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Stony Brook women inexperienced, hungry

Talented sophomore Giolibeth Perez balances concern for family in storm stricken Puerto Rico with hopes of helping Seawolves improve

Stony Brook guard Giolibeth Peres shoots a free

Stony Brook guard Giolibeth Peres shoots a free throw during women's basketball practice at IFCU arena on Friday, Oct. 27, 2017. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

It took about two weeks for Giolibeth Perez to get hold of her parents, to confirm they were alive and well. Swept up in the wave of devastation that hit Puerto Rico last month, Giovanni and Lillibeth Perez were without power, their water source was unreliable and food was scarce.

“It was very hard,” said Giolibeth — Gio for short. The Stony Brook sophomore point guard moved from the American commonwealth before high school to pursue her dream of becoming a basketball player, so when Hurricane Maria struck, there was no way for her to know what happened to her family back home. And when she finally managed to make contact, the picture was bleak.

Her parents were OK, but they probably won’t have power until December. “The food situation isn’t great,” she said after a long practice at Island Federal Credit Union Arena. “The service is not good, so sometimes I’ll communicate with them in the morning but then [I won’t be able to] for two days . . . I call and see if they can answer and if not, I just wait and wait.”

And even in the two weeks she heard nothing, “I couldn’t transfer that on the court,” she said.

That is, in part, because Perez — who played on Puerto Rico’s FIBA U19 World Cup team — is a competitor by nature. It’s also because, even though it’s only her second year as a Seawolf, she is one of the veterans on a team that comes into this season hungry but very inexperienced.

For Perez and Aaliyah Worley, the only senior on the team, very little they do exists in a vacuum. There are nine new players on this team — five freshmen, two redshirt freshmen and two transfers — and their cues come from the women returning. Worley is the only returnee who was a regular starter last season. She played in 29 games, started in 18 and averaged 4.8 points and 4.8 rebounds.

“It’s so new for her,” coach Caroline McCombs said of Worley. “I remember her being a shy freshman and a shy sophomore . . . and I’ve really tried to help her embrace that role [of leader] because with that role comes a lot of responsibility . . . and she’s willing to accept that responsibility. We’re asking a lot of her.”

Worley is more than happy to take on the new role. The 5-11 guard seems undaunted by the task at hand. Yes, the Seawolves are young, but they’re also versatile, she said. There’s no one superstar, but that just means they’re “not a one-player team.”

The America East preseason poll had the Seawolves listed as eighth of nine teams, but that, she said, is no reason for them to get down on themselves.

“We sweat it, but we don’t take it negatively,” she said. “Every day we come into practice and think, OK, they put us eighth, and that’s motivation. It puts a chip on our shoulder, it puts fire under us and makes us work harder . . . I feel like we’ve got a surprise coming this season.”

McCombs said that of the newcomers, she’s been especially impressed with India Pagan, the 6-1 center out of New London High School who played with Perez on Team Puerto Rico. There, Pagan said, she was defending against girls who were 6-5 — and one 7-footer on Team China.

The team also will rely heavily on junior guard Jerell Matthews and point guard Shania Johnson, a transfer who will see time with Perez.

Beyond that, there are plenty of question marks, and one of the signs of a successful season will be simply answering a few of them.

“It’s just continuing to grow and get better every day – that’s where we are,” McCombs said when asked about her idea of success. “It’s exciting to teach them something and see the progress that they’re making day by day . . . They’re young, hungry and committed to the process.”

SEAWOLVES TO WATCH

Aaliyah Worley I Guard, Sr

In many respects, this is Worley’s team now. As the only senior and the only regular returning starter on the roster, Worley will take on a bulk of the responsibility on the court and off. She played in 29 games last year and scored in double digits four times, including a season-high 13 points against Manhattan and Albany and a career-high 10 rebounds against Hofstra.

India Pagan I Center, F

Pagan has distinguished herself early to the Seawolves coaching staff. A strong force up the middle, she’s a more-than proficient scorer and a good passer around the perimeter. McCombs believes she’ll be able to make an immediate impact on the team.

Jerell Matthews I Guard, Jr

A bench player last year, Matthews is expected to be a significant contributor at the wing. Now in her third year on the team, McCombs expects Matthews to make the most out of a starting opportunity. Matthews appeared in 20 games off the bench last season and averaged 2.4 points and 1.9 rebounds, including a career-high 13 points against Binghamton.

— LAURA ALBANESE

THE SCHEDULE

(all times p.m.)

NOVEMBER

11 Manhattan, 6

14 at Hofstra, 7

19 at Farleigh Dickinson, 2

22 Farmingdale State, noon

26 Wagner, 4

DECEMBER

1 at Cornell, 7

3 at Syracuse, 2

6 Yale, 7

10 at Northwestern, noon

14 Iona, 7

17 Central Connecticut, 2

21 at Georgia Southern, 2

31 at Harvard, 2

JANUARY

3 at Maine, 7

6 Hartford, 2

10 Albany, 7

13 Vermont, 2

18 at Binghamton, 7

21 New Hampshire, 2

24 UMass Lowell, 7

27 at Albany, 2

31 at UMBC, 7

FEBRUARY

Feb. 3 at Hartford, 2

Feb. 5 Binghamton, 7

Feb. 8 at UMass Lowell, 7

Feb. 11 Maine, 2

Feb. 14 UMBC, 7

Feb. 17 at New Hampshire, 1

25 at Vermont, 2

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