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Holy Cross men’s and women’s basketball teams prepare for a new season

The Holy Cross women’s basketball team went 15-15 overall (10-12 in conference play) last season. They were just one win shy of setting a win’s total record in program history. The goal for this season?

“[Best season in program history], that is the minimum expectation,” said head coach Tom Robbins. “One more win, and we would have had it last year, and we have most of our players back, and the freshmen we are adding, they move us forward.” 

Robbins will have a smaller than usual team this year, just ten players in total. However, the quality of his squad is what gives Robbins his confidence. He does admit that the lack of depth is a potential weakness, though.

“We keeps us [from our goals] is injury… we do not have a huge margin for error, we are going to sustain injuries like anybody does, but if we have any long-term, multiple game injuries out of our players, that is going to be hard for us to overcome.”

Though the squad has just one senior in guard Jayda Miller, junior guard Lauren Morris and junior forward Neva Longhofer have also stepped up and have helped prepare the team during the offseason. 

The Saints will look to spread the floor with their shooters like Morris and Miller. Then, they will use a two-man game down low, utilizing athletic guards who can attack the rim, with bigs crashing the boards for rebounds. All in all, Robbins would like to shoot from the two more often than from range.

“I like a 2/3 to 1/3 balance between twos and threes… that’s a little more conservative than what a lot of the NAIA has been trending toward; a lot more teams are 50-50 these days.”

Robbins is incredibly excited about his freshman players. Elizabeth Edmonds, a starting-caliber player, occupies the center potion that Sara White left vacant. Audrey Tallent is an incredibly dynamic freshman guard. And sophomore guard Jordyn Smith, who is an incredible passer, should see starter minutes as well. 

Defensively, the team will look to clog passing lanes in the half-court and trap the opposition in a full-court defense. The Saints will then try to funnel the opposition into mid-range shots. Ideally, they will force them to shoot off the dribble late into the shot clock. 

Instrumental to that will be Grace Adams, a sophomore forward whom Robbins said can 1-5. Robbins thought back to last year when the Saints won a game by holding the opposing team to zero points for about six straight minutes in the fourth quarter. Adams was the primary reason for their dominance.

“They thought the best thing to do was take guard and go right at her because our matchups, Grace ended up happening to guard [their lead player], and they thought that was their advantage, and Grace shut her down every single time.” 

In contrast to the women’s team, the Holy Cross men’s basketball team took a bit of a step back last season. The men’s team went 13-17 overall with an 8-14 conference record. For a team that had made the NAIA National Tournament the last two seasons, last season was disappointing.

Nevertheless, head coach Mike McBride is confident his team can return to their winning ways. For McBride, that means focusing on the little things.

“To be honest, we talk very little about [outcome-based goals] because [they] are always a byproduct of what you are doing day in and day out, so our expectation is that we are growing closer and more unified as a team daily, that our level of intensity and execution rises daily and if we do that then those outcome-based expectations and goals become a byproduct of our daily improvements.” 

Helping to improve the team every day are senior leaders Jalen Martin, Beau Ludwick and Mick Sullivan.

A 6’4” forward, Martin missed most of the previous season due to injury, playing in only two games. Now that he is healthy again, McBride expects him to be a significant part of the Saint’s defense. 

“[Jaylen] has great length, so we think he can be a versatile defender, we think he can guard inside and out, he has really improved skill-wise, we think he has become a much-improved shooter, so that is a dynamic we really need obviously with the loss of Ryan Black,” McBride said.

The Saints will play a traditional man-to-man defense, with adjustments as needed. They’ll tend to avoid switching defenders, preferring the pre-game matchups. Martin’s ability to guard one through five brings a unique skill set to the Saints, who struggled defensively last season.

Ludwick, a 6’2” guard, is expected to be another key defensive player. His skill set allows him to draw top perimeter shooting assignments night in and night out.

“He is great one-on-one on the ball, and he has as good a vision and instinct off the ball as anybody we have, so we think he can really be outstanding,” McBride said.  

Sullivan, the team’s starting center, is once again expected to be a force for the team on offense. He will feature in the low post, looking to dominate the paint, grab rebounds and find shooters on the outside when he inevitably draws multiple defenders. McBride said that having Sullivan back and healthy, along with the additions of freshmen forwards Tommy Snyder and Joe Kelly, has led to a new strategy for the team offensively. 

“We have the guys we think that can make those, but we do want to play with that inside-out mentality. We are really emphasizing playing inside, attacking the paint both with post-play, with cutting, and with driving, so I think having a much more inside-dominated approach is maybe a little different than what we had last year,” McBride said. 

The seniors are certainly not alone in guiding the team. Last year’s standout freshmen, Justin O’Neal and Nash Hostetler are coming off sensational seasons. And McBride only expects them to improve. 

“We expect a lot out of those two in terms of production and what they do and bring to the game each night… we also think they both of these guys have great leadership potential, and I do not want to wait until they are senior for that to emerge,” McBride said.

The women’s team will begin their season on the road in Huntington Indiana when they face Huntington University. Tipoff is at 1 p.m. Friday. The men will have a home opener to start the season when they play host to East-West University Monday at 6 p.m.