The Lehigh women’s basketball team will kick off its 2017-18 season when the Mountain Hawks travel to Minneapolis to take on the University of Minnesota on Saturday.
The starting lineup for the matchup includes returners, sophomore forward Gena Grundhoffer and senior guard Quinci Mann.
For Grundhoffer, last year’s 10-20 campaign has not deterred her or the team’s mindset.
“Last season we didn’t have a very good record, and that’s a constant motivator for our entire team because we don’t want to end like that,” Grundhoffer said. “With these new girls coming in, I think we have a better shot at going into the Patriot League and dominating.”
The season opener sets the bar high for the Mountain Hawks by pitting them against a Big Ten conference team. For Minnesota native, freshman Mariah Sexe, this game is a dream come true. Sexe said she has high expectations for the Mountain Hawks and the season overall.
“It’s a dream come true,” Sexe said. “I’m not on the Minnesota team, but to be on a caliber team that gets to play them says something in itself. In addition to that, I get to play on the court that I used to watch when I was little and all of my friends and family will be able to see me.”
The matchup against the Gophers will also serve as a homecoming game for sophomore guard and returning starter Hannah Hedstrom.
This anticipation for the opener has led the team to train rigorously in the hopes of improving this year’s record and winning the Patriot League.
For Mann, a starter and two-time All-Patriot League selection, this preseason has been instrumental in improving her game.
“Every season I try to add something new to my game,” Mann said. “Coming out of last season, I think one of my biggest things to improve was my decision making. I was in a position to make a lot of decisions offensively, so knowing when it’s time to pass, when it’s time to shoot, when to create for other people who might be hot is really important to our success, so that’s something I really focused on.”
This preseason was marked by tackling personal challenges during training and building team morale in a period of adjustment.
This lineup adjustment came when two ACL injuries occurred in October, ending the season for junior Hailey Pascoe and freshman Ann-Marie Jacobs. Mann said this has raised the team’s awareness and ability to perform together.
“I think that we have a new perspective, and it makes us play that much harder for those two,” Mann said.
Boosting morale and playing harder has altered the Mountain Hawks for the better. Grundhoffer said the improvement and synergy on the court is noticeable during practices.
“I just think everyone’s competing really well and our intensity is high all of the time, and we hold each other accountable,” Grundhoffer said.
With preseason practice coming to a close, the team is eager to put its training to the test. Mann said this season opener will be one of the most difficult teams the Mountain Hawks will face all season, but the caliber of Minnesota does not intimidate them.
“They are definitely one of the most talented teams on our schedule, so I think that the fact that we get to open up with them and essentially get punched in the mouth our first game will give us a lot of edge when we go into the rest of our schedule,” Mann said.
The team is ready to gauge its progress and abilities among the best. Grundhoffer is not intimidated about facing the non-conference teams on its schedule.
“Everything is on the line for them. We have nothing to lose.” Grundhoffer said. “We just need to do our thing and not play afraid.”
This game will set the tone for the rest of the season and prepare the Mountain Hawks for the future high caliber competitors they will face, which includes a Big East conference opponent in Villanova University. The game will be played Nov. 17 in Allentown at the PPL Center, and Grundhoffer urges fans to come out and cheer on the Mountain Hawks.
“With more people, it’s just so much more fun to play when people are actually cheering for you,” Grundhoffer said.