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PREVIEW: Women’s basketball storylines to follow in the 2021-22 season

A new era of Boston University women’s basketball begins on Nov. 9, when the Terriers host the University of Massachusetts Lowell at Case Gym. Here are some storylines to watch heading into the 2021-22 season.

Terriers look to build off strong 2020-21 campaign

Boston University women’s basketball players in a November 2018 game. Under new head coach Melissa Graves, the Terriers begin their season Nov. 9 against the University of Massachusetts Lowell. MADDIE EPPERSON/ DFP FILE

On Nov. 9, it will have been 610 days since the Terriers last hosted a game with fans in the stands. Back in March 2020, the Terriers defeated the American University Eagles 46-44 in front of 255 fans at Case Gym. That Patriot League quarterfinal victory would be the final game of the season, the rest of the 2019-20 season being canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Terriers are coming off a strong 2020-21 campaign when they went 10-2 in a pandemic-affected conference-only regular season. The Terriers lost in the Patriot League Championship to Lehigh University, 64-54. 

In the conference preseason poll, head coaches and sports information directors across the Patriot League voted that the Terriers will finish second. Lehigh was selected to repeat its title, receiving 152 points, including 12 of the 20 first-place votes. Lehigh, BU, Bucknell University and American University all received at least one vote to finish in first place.

“Obviously, the top of the league is what a lot of people will focus on, but we have four new coaches in our conference, I believe,” head coach Melissa Graves said. “So it’s gonna be a lot of new things, a lot of new offense.”

Moseley departs, Graves takes the helm

Following the 2020-21 campaign, then-head coach Marisa Moseley accepted the head coaching position in Madison to lead the University of Wisconsin Badgers. During her three years at the helm in Boston, Moseley had a record of 45-29 and was named the 2019 Patriot League Coach of the Year.

In April 2021, BU announced that Graves would succeed Moseley as the head coach. The former Notre Dame player began her coaching career at Patriot League foe, Colgate University. She also served as an assistant coach at Yale and Wake Forest. The legendary coach Muffet McGraw — Graves’ college coach — is quoted on GoTerriers.com as saying that Graves has “a high basketball IQ” and that “she’s a terrific role model for her players.” 

Graves has noted a few shifts in her coaching strategy as she joins the Terriers. She said the team will enhance their offensive power with heightened athleticism.

“We’re really actually pushing the pace a lot more than they did in the past,” Graves said. “We’re running a lot more in transition, which is something I wanted to add.”

Graves also said that while BU has used a zone defense in the past, she has been working with the team on man-to-man defense. She hopes to be more “diverse defensively” this season. 

With Graves’ hire in April, BU has announced three new assistant coaches. Brianna Finch comes to Boston following serving as director of player development at Davidson, an assistant coach at Florida International University and three years at Barry University. Graves said she hopes to utilize Finch in international recruiting, as she has also served as a head coach overseas. 

Ashley Walker joins Graves’ staff following a successful professional basketball career. The University of California, Berkeley, star played for the Seattle Storm, Tulsa Shock, Connecticut Sun and Los Angeles Sparks in the WNBA. 

Originally from Fayetteville, Arkansas, Kourtni Williams comes to BU following seven years at the University of the Ozarks, where she spent some time as head coach.

Graves said she didn’t set out to hire all women for her coaching staff, but she hopes they can be role models for her team.

“I picked who I thought was going to be best for the job,” Graves said. “They did turn out to be women, and I’m actually happy how it turned out because I think the representation piece is really big.”

Key players return, plus a new addition

Sydney Johnson, Maren Durant, Riley Childs, Emily Esposito and Maggie Pina all return for the Terriers this year. Additionally, BU added Marist transfer Caitlin Weimar to the roster. Graves said Weimar helped round out the roster with regards to “depth in the post.”

“Looking at the ability to score at every position was really nice,” Graves said. “So, a very talented team with a lot of firepower offensively.”

The Terriers lost one player in the coaching transition. Katie Nelson decided to follow Moseley to Wisconsin as a graduate transfer. 

Non-conference play is back

After the University of Georgia dropped out of a game with BU, Graves said she used her connections within the Atlantic Coast Conference to schedule a game with Georgia Tech.

Playing the Yellow Jackets will be a homecoming of sorts for Johnson, who is from Powder Springs, Georgia. Graves said she tries to schedule one game during a player’s four years with the program near their hometown.

After a year without non-conference play, Graves said the team is excited to play non-Patriot League opponents.

“I think the biggest thing … is just coming from a sense of gratitude that we get to have this non-conference schedule this year, when last year COVID prevented us from doing that,” Graves said. “It’s going to really prepare us for the Patriot League.”

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