Belles carry roster full of experience and youth into new season
Andrew McGuinness | Thursday, November 9, 2023
Age and experience are often used to determine the expectations for a college sports team. A roster full of upperclassmen is generally expected to be a title contender, or at least pegged for significant success. Meanwhile, a team giving most of its playing time to younger players is assumed to be trading short-term pain for long-term gain.
If that’s the case, the fate of the Saint Mary’s 2023-24 basketball team is completely up for grabs. On one hand, the Belles are returning four of their five leading scorers from last season. Junior guard Julia Schutz, the team’s only returning captain, is the lone holdover who averaged double figures a season ago. Senior forward Athena Samson (who was also the team’s leading rebounder), senior guard Elle Deardorff and junior guard Jasmyne Townsend were close behind. Head coach Melissa Makielski, entering her seventh season at the helm of the Belles, is happy to have such a prolific group of returners.
“It’s really nice to have that reliability,“ Makielski said. “And we’ve got guards and post players out of those four. So it’s nice to be able to not necessarily have to spend the majority of our time offense we can flip the switch a little bit.“
However, seven of the 16 players on the roster are new to the program. That group includes six freshmen, who will not have to wait around to see the court — especially guard Kate Restovich, who started in Wednesday’s season opener.
“They’re impact players that are fitting in really well with our culture, and I’m excited to see them mature and grow over the course of the next couple of years,” Makielski said.
Saint Mary’s is hoping that fresh blood can inject some new energy into this year’s roster. The Belles have gone 13-38 over the past two seasons and 9-23 in conference play. The Belles started last year incredibly strong, winning their first two and three of their first four. But as the season progressed, the team got into some bad habits, particularly away from South Bend, where the team went just 1-11.
“We struggled at the end of the season last year, and that was when we got a lot of those, those losses. So for us, it’s about finding more consistency throughout the year,” Makielski said. “And really making sure that we get ourselves in better routines on game day, whether it’s at home or on the way so that you know the surroundings might be different on away game days. But I want our mindset to still be the same.”
The Belles’ defense particularly struggled as the season progressed. In that season-opening 3-1 stretch, the Belles held their opponent below 80 points in all four games. That happened just once in their final nine contests. Three times last year the Belles conceded more than 100 points in a match. So, it’s no surprise that’s a major emphasis for Makielski heading into a new campaign.
“We gave up almost 80 points a game last year. So we really need to buckle down defensively and figure out a way to try to control that a little bit,” Makielski said. “Actually, a lot better than we did last year.”
With Schutz and newly minted captains Deardorff and Samson leading the way, the Belles got off to a sluggish start, falling 85-56 in their season opener to Franklin. But the Belles hope they have the pieces, new and old, to make that result seem like an aberration.