By: Ethan Fuller
BOSTON, MA — Marisa Moseley’s inaugural season at the helm of Boston University women’s basketball raised plenty of eyebrows. The Terriers put together their best season ever in the Patriot League after finishing a school-record 11-7 in the conference and nabbing the fourth seed, silencing doubters of the rookie head coach and her players in the process.
This year the expectations are real. BU placed fourth in the Patriot League’s preseason poll on October 17 — their highest ranking as a member of the conference. Coach Moseley is no longer a rookie, but instead the defending Patriot League Coach of the Year.
With some experience under her belt and stronger rapport with her assistants and returning players, Moseley says her confidence in the preparation process has greatly increased since last fall.
“There were so many things I was trying to learn and trying to teach them and even my staff: drills, terminology, principles and all that,” Moseley said of last year. “We were that much further behind because we had to kind of lay the groundwork for everything. This year, having returners … it’s not like everything’s new for the first time for everyone,”
The presence of familiar staff and players has allowed Moseley to build on a solid foundation and get right to the intricacies of her coaching.
“The little details that I wanted to focus on, I could, because the big parts were already implemented.”
Two of those critical returners make up the dynamic frontcourt duo of senior Nia Irving and sophomore Riley Childs. After playing together in flashes down the stretch of last season, both are excited to spend more time alongside each other this season.
“We both have similar styles, we both have high energy and we both like to run up and down,” Irving said.
Childs in particular has drummed up hype after a strong freshman performance. The Medway native controlled the glass in her sixth-player role for last year’s Terriers, averaging 7.2 rebounds in just 25.5 minutes per contest. Now a sophomore, Childs feels much more comfortable getting ready for a new season..
“I feel like last year I was overwhelmed throughout October just because it was a lot at once,” Childs said, “but this year I feel more confident. I’m assuming a leadership position, so I just feel better all-around.”
She also showed flashes of an improving perimeter stroke, making four of ten three-point attempts in the final six games. BU’s offense would add a new dimension with a consistent long ball from Childs, and according to the forward, “that’s the plan.”
“I’ve definitely worked on shooting a lot more this summer,” she said. “I feel more confident when I shoot the ball and it looked pretty good in practice, so we’ll see how it goes.”
The Terriers have a number of intriguing frontcourt pieces behind Irving and Childs as well. Sophomores Ashley Sieper and Chiara Tibbitt looked promising in limited time last season. Audrey Nicholson is still working her way back to full health after missing all of 2018-19, but she and junior Mackenzie Miers add size down low.
Another new addition is freshman Maren Durant, a 6’3″ local from Winchester. Coach Moseley noted that Durant’s abilities should add diversity to player roles.
“Her size and her strength allows her to kind of bang inside a little bit and maybe move Nia to the high post,” Moseley said.
Nelson Leads New Era of Guards
On the perimeter, junior Katie Nelson is the lone high-usage veteran from last year’s roster. The All-Patriot League Third Team point guard averaged 10.3 points and 3.7 assists for the Terriers in 2018-19 and will again be tasked with leading the offense.
“Her experience is kind of irreplaceable for us — and her mind for the game,” Moseley said. “I think she has a really high basketball I.Q., and so she really is the general out there.”
Nelson must continue to take command, as she’ll be joined by a host of new players on the wing. Four freshmen — Sydney Johnson, Annabelle Larnard, Maggie Pina and Liz Shean — will be vying for the minutes left by graduated seniors Payton Hauck and Lauren Spearman. Add in transfer Emily Esposito (eligibility still unclear), as well as junior Tenisha Pressley and senior Vanessa Edgehill, and the guard rotation appears wide open.
According to Coach Moseley the vacant starting spots are still very much up in the air. Come opening night, do not be surprised if one or more freshmen are slotting in on the wing next to Nelson.
Challenging Non-Conference Slate
Last year BU faced a difficult non-conference schedule that saw plenty of highs and lows but prepared the team well for Patriot League play. The 2019-20 calendar looks even tougher.
All six non-conference losses last year came on the road and featured a double-digit defeat. All six of those opponents, starting with Marist College on Friday, return to the schedule this season, but instead make the trip to Case Gym. Add in a two-game California road trip that sees BU square off against two 2019 NCAA tournament teams, and this early stretch looks daunting.
Moseley recognizes the challenge and sees the slate as a valuable test for her players.
“One of the things I learned at Connecticut is that you play the toughest non-conference schedule you can in preparation for the season,” she said. “As much as you want to do well in your non-conference, if you see different styles and get pushed, I think that’ll prepare us even more for Patriot League.”
“I did schedule a tough schedule, but I did it purposefully because, one, we need to expose ourselves to things outside our region,” Moseley added. “And two, I think the tougher teams we play and the more experience we get at that level, knowing that we’re trying to prepare for the NCAA Tournament, we’re not going to be shocked.”
Childs echoed the sentiment. “It’s about learning, getting better and getting stronger so when we get into the Patriot League, we’re ready to play at our highest level.”
Ultimately, the most pressing question surrounding the Terriers is: how does the team transition after the graduation of three crucial leaders in Hauck, Spearman and forward Naiyah Thompson?
All three logged major minutes for last year’s surprise squad and instilled a competitive drive that propelled BU to the conference playoffs. And their example, both on and off the court, exemplified the mantra Coach Moseley has instilled: “leave the program better than you found it.”
“Those three competed hard every single day at practice; they gave us everything they had,” Moseley said. “No matter what the game was, or the practice was, they were gonna give it their all.”
The torch of leadership has passed to capable hands in BU’s four captains: Irving, Nelson, Childs and Edgehill.
“[They’ve] done a really nice job of stepping up and recognizing what each of their strengths and weakness are,” Moseley said, “and so they’re able to step in for different situations.”
That leadership has paired nicely with the rush of new faces, which Moseley called “refreshing.”
“The experienced [players] gain some excitement from watching what the new players are doing, and the new players gain some of the experience and the lessons from the older guys, so I think it’s a nice combination,” she added.
Irving emphasized the increase in consistent energy throughout preseason practices and scrimmages. Childs, meanwhile, continued by saying the players are naturally excelling at simply “being a good teammate.”
“Helping each other help with a fall, cheering each other on, forgetting if you make a mistake and just being there for your teammate … we’re a really good team when we play, but we’re also good teammates to each other on and off the court,” she said.
The mix of camaraderie and hungry energy results in a deep roster. That depth and drive, with the trio of Irving, Nelson and Childs as an “anchor”, are what Coach Moseley believes Patriot League preseason voters underestimated when assessing her squad.
“We have a championship mindset, [shown through] the way we move in practice, the way we prepare for games,” she said. “No one’s going to work harder or be more prepared for us.”
Featured Image courtesy of Andrew Mason.