This season has been far from easy for first-year LIU Brooklyn women’s basketball head coach Stephanie Oliver. In fact, it has come with plenty of challenges, probably more so than she even had anticipated when she accepted the head coaching job back in last May.
To say this LIU Brooklyn women’s basketball team has gone through a lot since Oliver’s arrival, is probably selling it a bit short.
In the offseason, after Oliver’s hiring, four players decided to either transfer or leave the program. In addition, since Oliver and her staff got a late jump in recruiting, they were not able to bring any freshman players for this season, meaning they were left with just ten eligible players to go into this season with.
Then came the injuries. Before even getting to game one, Oliver lost two more players to season-ending injuries with the losses of senior forward Angelia Allen and sophomore guard Drew Winter.
Also, senior Ashley Brown was not available for the first five games of the season with an injury thus leaving Oliver and her coaching staff with just seven scholarship players to march into the season with. The team added walk-on guard Lily Abreu to expand the number of available players to eight.
Not surprisingly, LIU Brooklyn struggled in non-conference play, going just 2-9 and along the way, battling even more injuries and lack of depth.
When NEC play arrived in January, this team, which was picked to finish last in NEC preseason coaches poll in October, could have easily waved the white flag, knowing every game was going to be an uphill battle and wins might be too difficult to come by this season with virtually no depth. Yet, they came out of the chute 2-0 in NEC play with upset wins on the road at Mount St. Mary’s and at CCSU.
Yet, the injuries just kept on coming.
Junior guard Shanovia Dove, the team’s leading scorer would go down for four games. Graduate student guard Ashley Brown was also went down for four games. Then starter sophomore Paris Jones would be lost with a knee/leg injury for the rest of the season in a win against Wagner on January 18th. That left Oliver with just six available players for their next four games after the Wagner game.
She basically had no choice but to play her five remaining scholarship players virtually all forty minutes. Yet, even under this scenario, LIU still managed to win a game, getting their first home win of the season on January 30th against Fairleigh Dickinson.
Now, with Dove and Brown back from injury and LIU at “full strength” with eight players, LIU has won two of their last three games and are coming off their first Battle of Brooklyn victory since 2012 against St. Francis Brooklyn.
The fact that LIU Brooklyn has seven wins for the season and are 6-7 in conference play going into tonight’s game against Central Connecticut at the Steinberg Wellness Center, is quite a testament to the coaching job that Stephanie Oliver has done in year one.
To her credit, Oliver hasn’t used her team’s injuries or lack of depth as an excuse if they play a bad game or lose a close one that they might’ve won had they had a full complement of players.
LIU is tied with Central Connecticut for sixth place and a win tonight would give them the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Blue Devils as LIU already owns a win against them from earlier this season. A win and losses by both Wagner and St. Francis Brooklyn would clinch an NEC tournament spot for the Blackbirds for the third straight season with four games remaining and could break a streak of two seasons in a row as an eight-seed.
To say the job that Oliver and her coaching staff has done up to this point of the season, has been, quite frankly, remarkable would be an understatement. Yes, Oliver didn’t have a single freshman to have to “coach up” sort of speak and she did have a veteran group of players with three of her active players being seniors. But to have play actual games with just six, seven, eight players this season and being just one win away from being .500 and earning an NEC tournament berth when the league had you picked dead last, has proven, if nothing else, that the LIU Brooklyn administration made the right call when they hired Oliver away from Seton Hall this offseason.
Oliver was brought in to re-vitalize and re-energize a program, that honestly, had become a bit dormant, especially in the last three season before Oliver’s arrival. She has brought the passion and an energy most expected she would come to Downtown Brooklyn with and has not let the injuries and the lack of depth of her roster deter her from coaching up a team of ladies who has shown a lot of grit, toughness and fortitude.
Senior point guard Shanice Vaughan has shown great leadership as well tremendous stamina this season. Vaughan has taken her scoring average from 4.6 points per game and 3.8 assists per game last season to 12.1 points per game and 4.6 assists per game this season, all while playing 35.7 minutes per game which is third among all NEC players. Sixteen times this season, she has played 35 minutes or more and seven times this season, she has played all forty minutes for her team.
Shanovia Dove has battled through injuries this season to lead LIU in scoring at 13.3 points per game. Senior Jolanna Ford and sophomore DeAngelique Waithe been the entire front court for LIU this season with sophomore Stylz Sanders getting some front court minutes with her 5’9” frame.
Junior guard Brianna Farris leads the team in three-point shooting at nearly 35 percent and averages over eight points per game. Paris Jones had taken a big step up when she was inserted into the starting lineup and was second on the team in three-point shooting before getting hurt resulting in her being shut down for the rest of the season. She increased her averaged from 3.0 points per game to 9.4 points per game this season. Even walk-on Lily Abreu has been pressed into action, playing in nine games, averaging six minutes per game.
Stephanie Oliver has demanded a lot from her team, to be the start of a foundation in which one day they can all say, they helped build a winner once again at LIU. Her team has responded to her coaching and slowly the wins have started to appear.
To bring this team to the brink of NEC tournament berth, Oliver and her staff have done an incredible job in this challenging year one and just proves that the program is now in good hands and the future of LIU Brooklyn women’s basketball is bright.
Oliver has already signed four Class of 2016 players into the fold for next season (all at least 5’11” or taller!) as well as having two transfers already on the team this season who will be eligible next season in MacKenzie Freeman and Kandance Satterwhite, who transferred from Illinois State and Buffalo, respectively. Freeman has two years of eligibility remaining. Satterwhite will have 3.5 years of eligibility remaining. That leaves Oliver with two more scholarship to work with for next season.
For year one, this season has already been a success and there is still at least five games to go. If this season is any early indication, LIU Brooklyn has the right coach now in place to lead them towards competing for an NEC championship in the coming years and quite possibly back to the NCAA tournament where they have only been once in their history. With Oliver, the program now feels like it has a direction and their future looks to be in good hands.
**Update** 2/16/15 – In original version, I had mentioned and added a USA Today story link of a recruit from South Carolina and who had verbally committed to LIU Brooklyn for next season but have learned that she has decommitted, so the reference to her has been omitted and the number of possible available scholarships have been updated.