A young Elon University women’s basketball team jumped into its season earlier in November after months of off-season preparation. As the 14-player roster welcomed a total of eight freshmen, two of whom are redshirts, head coach Charlotte Smith said this off-season’s preparation meant more than the years prior.
“The preparation was invaluable,” Smith said. “To be able to practice for 10 practices and play two games, we were able to see a lot.”
Training eight new members for any team is a challenge, but captain of the Phoenix, graduate student center Evonna McGill, said that the most important thing to do was stay patient with them.
“I know there is a lot they have to learn, but they are also willing and hungry,” McGill said. “They are coachable, they listen and they are here. They are ready to go just like us.”
Although McGill is listed at the five spot, also known as the center on the court, Smith said there’s no one she would rather have take point as leader in the locker room.
“We have some outstanding senior leadership, especially in Evonna McGill,” Smith said.
Smith said she also had goals for McGill on the court, specifically to take home a First Team All-CAA honor.
“Before she was ever voted second team, we talked about this in the summer of her being CAA first team,” Smith said. “I know what I see in her, and I want to get the best out of her.”
Preparation was also difficult for the new members who suited up in maroon and gold. Freshman guard Raven Preston said it was an adjustment to train under Smith — the winningest head women’s basketball coach in program history.
“It is more intense,” Preston said. “You’re competing with the best players every single day, which gets you better. But at first, it was a little shaky.”
However, Smith said she sometimes forgot the team was made up of predominantly freshmen because of how much confidence they brought to the table.
“You would think as first years that they would go in with a lot of nerves and a lot of jitters, and they may have had nerves, but I didn’t see it,” Smith said.
While the growth of the new players made preparation difficult at times, McGill said the team was able to overcome and now looks to take its next step.
“Our biggest hurdle is that we are young, but that is such a small hurdle to get over when you have freshmen that come in, ready, hungry and motivated,” McGill said. “Now is just fixing the little things.”
Once the Phoenix tackled that challenge, the next obstacle it faced was defense. McGill emphasized how important it is to maintain a strong defense.
“We all came here to ball — everybody can score, but you have to be able to play both ends of the court,” McGill said, “Our defense is our main priority right now.”
Even before the season began, McGill said the team had competitive competition circled on its calendar.
“Definitely Drexel and JMU, those will be our biggest games,” McGill said. “We just match up in different ways to where the competition is always good.”
The Phoenix is built on competition, graduate student guard Lenaejha Evans said after the team’s 60-57 win over High Point University Nov. 13.
“We like competition,” Evans said. “We like to compete.”
As the season moves into December, Smith said she is pleased with what she has seen so far.
“We feel like we have done a good job of creating an offensive system where we have something for everybody,” Smith said. “We can tap into everyone’s strengths for them to have opportunities to score.”
However, Smith also said there are still kinks in the system.
“Where we fall off a little bit is defensively,” Smith said. “Just trying to extend that intensity for 40 minutes is what we are focusing on.”
No matter what challenges get thrown in the way of the Phoenix, Smith said she will always find a way to rise to the occasion.
“This team is exciting. I wake up excited every morning trying to figure out how I can help them be the best team that they can be,” Smith said.
Currently on a four game win streak, the Phoenix sits 4-2 in the young season. However, it still has a long way to go if it hopes to bring a banner to the Schar Center.