PREVIEW: Women's basketball team opens regular season against Madonna

Freshman guard Cha’Ron Sweeney led the way for EMU on Tuesday with 20 points on 7-of-18 shots and 4-of-6 from the free-throw line to go along with three steals.

On the heels of an 85-76 exhibition win over the Wayne State University Warriors Tuesday night, the Eastern Michigan University women’s basketball team is setting its sights on its next opponent, the Madonna University Crusaders.

Prior to Friday’s regular season opener, second-year coach Tory Verdi said he and his team felt good about the win over Wayne State.

“The biggest thing is that [we] feel good about what we did,” Verdi said. “Were we perfect? No. There were a lot of things that we could clean up, but the fact that we had five players in double digits … its positive.”

Coming off an 8-22 season a year ago, Verdi said his focus was on helping the team improve steadily.

“My biggest thing, my biggest focus with this team is that we want to get better every single day,” Verdi said. “We were 8-22 last year – we weren’t a very good basketball team. My job as coach is to prepare them and help them and really make them grow, but it’s an ongoing process. If we just focus on getting them better every single day, the wins will come down the road. That’s what we’re focusing on.”

Redshirt junior center Olivia Fouty, who missed the team’s final 23 games last year with a knee injury, said she was excited to begin the regular season.

“I’m really excited, we have a few things to clean up – I know the jitters were going [on Tuesday],” Fouty said. “I think we’re prepared and ready and I’m excited to actually start playing.”

She cautioned against letting nerves get the best of her team against Madonna.

“We have to be focused and ready and just play our game and not worry about what they’re doing,” Fouty said.

Freshman guard Cha’Ron Sweeney led the Eagles with 20 points on Tuesday. Before that game, Verdi mentioned her as being a player to watch on defense, not for her offensive power.

Fouty was quick to point out that any player on the team can easily stand out for any given game.

“We all bring something to the court,” Fouty said. “We had five people in double digits in our last game so I think in any given night it could be anybody.”

Madonna is 1-1 so far this season, with a win against Penn State University – Greater Allegheny and a loss to Point Park University, but is in a bit of a rebuilding year of its own.

“We’re entirely a different team and so are they,” Verdi said. “They lost their top five scorers from a year ago. We’re different – we’re going to attack them, we’re going to pressure them and we’re going to try to turn them over as we turned over Wayne State [Tuesday].”

Both teams faced each other in an exhibition game last season, with the Eagles, behind a second half turnaround, coming out ahead by a score of 75-64.

“Last year we struggled against them,” Verdi said. “We were down at halftime. We played a majority of the [man-to-man] in the first half. We didn’t do a very good job of containing dribble penetration. We went to a 2-3 zone in the second half and that was the reason why we ended up winning that game.”

Verdi was optimistic about this year’s matchup.

“We’re so different from a year ago,” Verdi said. “From top to bottom, we probably went from one of the least athletic teams in the MAC conference to the most athletic team in the MAC conference. So a year later, we’re sitting in a really good spot.”

Players to Watch:

EMU Sr. G Desyree Thomas: Thomas is known by her team as being its spark plug, both on offense as well as defense.

Last year, Thomas averaged 7.1 points per game, but was second on the team in time on the court, averaging 32 minutes per game. Look for her to make an impact on Friday.

Madonna Jr. G Rachel Melcher: The Sterling Heights, Mich. native averaged 11.7 ppg in 31 games for the Crusaders last year. She also added 50 steals and 51 assists.

Fouty said the fans will enjoy what they see at the Convocation Center on Friday afternoon.

“We play very hard and we like to get after it,” Fouty said. “I like this year [that] our press is fun to watch, we had a lot of steals [Tuesday], we forced 35 turnovers, which is very good for us. So I would say our speed and our quickness and we like to get up and down the floor. That’s fun basketball to watch. I’d rather watch that.”

Verdi agreed with his starting center.

“If anybody was at the game [Tuesday], I think it was fun,” Verdi said. “That’s how we’re going to play. We’re going to be fast, we’re going to be furious. That’s the style I wanted to play last year, but our personnel didn’t fit it. Now, all of a sudden, a year later, we have players who can play that way. It’s a great style of play, I think from a fan’s perspective it’s fun to watch. I think if they come out, they’re going to appreciate what our players do.”

He said his team takes great pride in playing for the Green & White.

“Not only did they compete, but the pride that they showed playing for Eastern Michigan was something special,” Verdi said.

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Follow Al Willman on Twitter: @AlWillmanEcho

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