After finishing 20-12 overall last season, including a program-record of 11 wins in the ACC, Boston College women’s basketball is on the hunt to prove itself once again. Even with ACC Coach of the Year Joanna Bernabei-McNamee at the helm, preseason All-ACC selection Taylor Soule driving the Eagles’ scoring, and a fourth-place conference finish a season ago, BC still finds itself projected to finish eighth in the ACC this year. But just like last year, the 2020-21 season is all about defying the odds.
“I’m not saying I’m a little bitter, but I think we played so much better last year than they may have given us credit for, which is fine,” junior guard Marnelle Garraud said during Media Day on Monday.
“People may always underestimate us, and even the [other] players when they watch us. We try not to read too much into it and just work, and find our own path and build our own storyline every single year.”
But being the underdog isn’t the only obstacle the Eagles face this year. Normally, the Eagles have eight weeks over the summer of training and team bonding, on and off the court. But due to COVID-19 restrictions, they have been limited in their practice time.
Even so, many of the Eagles made the best of their situations. Garraud and Soule met up in Stoughton, Mass. over the summer to play pickup games together and with other athletes from other schools who live in the area. That time, Soule said, afforded her a newfound sense of confidence and relaxation on the court.
After being named the ACC’s Most Improved Player last year, Soule is still looking to better her game, starting with her mid-range jump shots. And, Bernabei-McNamee noted, her summer work paid dividends.
“I know we haven’t had the pressure of what the game and what the lights of the game bring, but for her right now, a 15-footer might as well be a layup,” Bernabei-McNamee said on Monday. “She really took that to heart and worked hard over the summer. So I’m very proud of her and her ability to take that next step in her game.”
Bernabei-McNamee said that since the Eagles have been back, the attitude has been all about preparing for game one. Although the Eagles did not know when exactly that game would be—since the ACC just released its schedule last week—BC has been hard at work.
“The joy of playing, and getting to be together, and returning a lot of our scoring—having, I think, the most mature team we’ve had since I’ve been here—is really exciting. So we’re getting after it every day, and we’re looking forward to the 25th.”
The Eagles will face one of the toughest conference slates in recent memory, including a regional pod with Louisville, Notre Dame, and Syracuse. The Eagles will also face NC State twice this season, and the reigning ACC Champion Wolfpack is projected to finish second in the conference this year. Regardless, Bernabei-McNamee said her team is up to the task.
“Our players, you know, they came to Boston College because of the great education, but they also came to play in the ACC and to have that kind of challenge put forth, so we’re really excited,” she said. “If we want to showcase what we’re made of, we really have to go against the best, and we’re going to be able to do that on night after night in the ACC here.”
The Eagles proved last year that they are a competitive member of the ACC, due in large part to the contributions of three talented seniors: Emma Guy, Georgia Pineau, and Taylor Ortlepp. With their departure, a number of periphery players have stepped up into larger roles, Bernabei-McNamee said.
Sophomore Akunna Konkwo will see her first playing minutes this year after suffering a season-ending achilles tear last year. Bernabei-McNamee also noted that senior Clara Ford has made significant strides in the offseason.
“Between those two players, they’re gonna work really hard to maintain the success that we’ve had down low, and they’re both smart players,” Bernabei-McNamee said. “I think getting to watch a great player like Emma [Guy] over the last couple years really, helped improve their IQ on the floor and really their grit.”
This year’s freshman class, though it features just two players, will also add great depth to the Eagles’ roster. Bernabei-McNamee predicts that Kaylah Ivey will be one of the nation’s best point guards as she continues to improve in the Eagles’ system. JoJo Lacey, a five-star recruit, will also earn minutes for the Eagles this year.
“I think [she] has that little bit of confidence to her game that when she’s out there, she knows she can score,” Bernabei-McNamee said of Lacey. “We’re teaching her all the college facets, which is how to play defense at this level and making sure she can crash the boards and grab rebounds, but she’s coming in with that kind of chip on her shoulder that says, ‘Hey, I can do this, and I want to play and be a factor this year.’”
With their opening day less than two weeks away, the Eagles have a lot to prove to themselves.
“We just come into play, and I think we want to build our own story, no matter what anybody else says about us,” Garraud said.
Featured Image by Kait Devir / Heights Staff