Wednesday, December 1, 2010

UAlbany women's team off to 5-0 start

ALBANY – More times than she cares to recall – both before she became the school’s head coach and since – Katie Abrahamson-Henderson has heard ad nauseam about the University at Albany women’s basketball team’s past struggles. None of it concerns her, she says.

In fact, Abrahamson-Henderson is hoping some early success will do wonders in changing the way the program is perceived.

“The past is the past. This is a new era,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “I’m just worried about what we’re doing now and the direction we are going in. What happened here previously is irrelevant as far as I’m concerned. It’s time to move on. I’m not one to dwell on stuff like that.”

But to understand the significance of the Great Danes’ impressive 5-0 start this season, it is necessary to take a gander at the history that first-year head coach Abrahamson-Henderson is attempting to distance the UAlbany program from.

Since transitioning to the Division I level in 1999, the Great Danes have never had a winning record. The past two years were especially dreadful. During that time, UAlbany compiled an 18-44 ledger, including a 7-25 mark in America East play.

“There is a new level of focus and the coaching staff has brought a high level of energy along with an aggressive mentality,” said Great Danes sophomore forward Julie Forster. “We go out on the court looking to attack instead of reacting to what our opponent does. It’s been a lot of fun so far.”

UAlbany is off to its best start since the 1986-87 season. The Great Danes will look to push their record to 6-0 tonight when they travel to Sacred Heart University for a non-conference game. Tip-off is 7 p.m.

This season’s journey will soon become much more difficult for UAlbany. Following tonight’s game, the Great Danes meet cross-town rival Siena College on Saturday before road games at Syracuse and Duke. They open America East play Jan. 4 at home against New Hampshire.

“It’s a good start, but we have to build on it and not get comfortable,” Forster said. “It’s nice to play well now, but we want to be playing our best basketball later in the season.”

The 6-foot Forster is one of the main reasons for UAlbany’s early success. The rugged post player is second on the team in scoring at 14.3 ppg and leads the Great Danes in rebounding (12.3 rpg).

“It’s nice to have someone like Julie down there to clean up mistakes and give us more chances on offense and also limit second chances for our opponents,” said UAlbany junior point guard Felicia Johnson, who is pitching in 12.3 ppg. “Julie plays so hard all of the time that it really rubs off on the rest of us.”

Prior to guiding the Great Danes, Abrahamson-Henderson served as associated head coach at Indiana University. She was also the head coach at Missouri State University from 2002-07, leading that program to three NCAA Tournament appearances.

“I believed this could be a winning program and that through hard work we could find success,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “This is a great group of girls to work with. They have bought into the principals of the plan from the first day.”

UAlbany finished 11-19 last year, but with four starters back – Forster and Johnson along with sophomores Ebone Henry and Keyana Williams – the cupboard certainly wasn’t bare for the new coach.

“I knew there were some good pieces to work with, some emerging players,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “I really thought this group could take a big step forward this year and so far I have been pleased with what I have seen.”

So far, a stingy defense has been the Great Danes’ trademark. UAlbany has held four of its first five opponents to less than 50 points, a feat the Great Danes achieved only four times in 30 games during the 2009-10 season.

“We get after it on defense. Coach expects us to be tough and play in your face,” Johnson said. “We want to be aggressive, force turnovers and make every possession difficult.”

So what does the future hold for UAlbany?

“I don’t want to make predictions or anything like that, but this is a team and a program that will work for success,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “We’re moving forward and not looking back at what was. I’m excited to see where we can take this.”

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