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Season Preview: Guards

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This is part one of a two-part season preview on the Bryant women's basketball team's upcoming season. We will preview the posts on Friday.

SMITHFIELD, R.I. – The Bryant University women's basketball team kicks off its 2018-19 season on Nov. 6 with UMass Lowell. The Bulldogs return all of their key guards from last season and add four new faces to the mix.

Last season, the Bulldogs were a young team and head coach Mary Burke says that it's going to all be about experience this year which will make them successful.

"With these younger kids they are going to be better based on experience. A year older a year wiser," say Coach Burke. "These guys are figuring it out early. For some it takes a couple of years or a semester. We play an up non-conference schedule so it is going to be a challenge and they are going to be exposed to a lot, so when it comes to conference time they will be ready."

Seniors Naomi Ashley (Hamilton, Ont.), Kierra Palmer (Aberdeen, Md.), and Haley Connors (West Hartford, Conn.) will be leading on the guard front as the only three Bulldog seniors. All three seniors have made big contributions to the Bryant squad and have made names for themselves in the NEC.

Palmer lead the Northeast Conference for the second year in a row last year with her assists per game average. The senior guard averaged 5.3 assists a night last season, which was an improvement from her sophomore season average of 4.8.

Coach Burke said, "Kiki has a lot of experience returning and understands the system. She knows what it takes to play at this level and what I expect. I have high expectations for her and I really am expecting her to have a great year and really using that experience and leadership to her advantage."

Ashley returns for the Bulldogs as a redshirt senior. Being in her fifth year, she has a lot to add to the program. She led the conference last season with 2.77 steals per game. Her ability to defend and create opportunities with a scoring defense is going to be key to the Bulldogs success.

"Naomi Ashley is athletic and has a lot of experience. There is a lot of high expectations for what is expected out of her defensively. We need her to be more of a solid contributor in every aspect of the stat sheet. People played off her because she was not an offensive threat, which became a hindrance to our posts because teams would use her defender to double down. She needs to be able to contribute offensively as well as bring everything defensively."

The third senior provides the Bryant squad with depth on the three-point line. Connors exploded onto the scene in her sophomore year as she helped the Bulldogs win the NEC Semifinal game over Sacred Heart with her career-best 3-point percentage of 100% as she shot the lights out with five threes. Last season, Connors averaged about one 3-pointer a game with a three-point percentage of 27.9%.

"Haley was a little inconsistent for us last year so I'm thinking that because she is a year older, and this is her last year, she'll really have confidence going for her. She really needs to be solid contributor for us consistently all year."

On the junior side, Stephanie Lesko (Rumson, N.J.) returns for the Bulldogs as another option on the 3-point line. She made eight starts last season adding quality minutes.

"Steph was a roll player off the bench for us last year. She is now two years into the system and I think she's a little more confident with her role and where she needs to be. If she becomes consistent in the early part of the season, it could really be a big help for us with pulling defenders out of the paint and creating more 1 on 1 situations."

Lesko's classmate, Masey Zegarowski (Hamilton, Mass.), made 22 starts last season at the guard position scoring a career-high of 22 points against Saint Francis U in February of last season. The sophomore also grabbed four rebounds and dished out two assists.

"Masey runs both sides of the court for us in the two and the three lane. She has a lot of experience having played since her freshman year. We told her in the spring that she needs to produce more offensively and that's what she's been working on all summer."

Kandis Taylor (Sunrise, Fla.) is the only sophomore guard returning for the Bulldogs as she contributed quality minutes of 10 a night. Taylor's best scoring game came against Robert Morris where she went 3-4 on the free throw line.

"Kandis has some playing experience from last year and gained some confidence with that and worked hard in the summer. Her ability to run the show and her explosiveness in the half court will be an advantage for us."

A pair of transfers were added to the 2018-19 team from junior college, UConn Avery Point. Meagan Bianchi (Brooklyn, Conn.) and Taty LaFrance Boyce (Norwich, Conn.) are a part of the junior class as they make their Division I debut.

"These players are new, fresh, figuring out the system and figuring out this level of competition. This level is completely different from what she came from, so being patient and understanding that there is that transition time," Coach Burke said about the duo as they enter NCAA Division I basketball. 'When you transition from a lower level that's a lot, and the biggest difference is the speed of the game, level of intensity, and the quality of players at this level."

While at Avery Point, Bianchi led the Huskies with 406 career assists and broke the record for most assists in a game with 16.

"Meg is going to be playing behind people with significant playing experience. For her it's going to be all about figuring out the system and learning the knowledge of this level and being a point guard. Understanding how to run those plays and be a good defender and just bringing in all those aspects of a point guard here."

Boyce also had a successful career at Avery Point finishing her two years as the school's all-time leader in points (1,302), 3-pointers (117) and steals (232).

She's a good little competitor with a good little skill set. I think as she figures out this level and transitions I think she can bring some good things to the table."

The last guard on the Bulldog roster is Madison Trpcic (Hamilton, Ont.). Trpcic towers over some of her fellow teammates standing at 6 feet tall.

"She's physically struggled in the preseason with injuries. She was recruited because she can stretch out a little and shoot the three and has good range. When there was that little window where she was healthy, you could see she can play. Unfortunately, for her she has just had some bad luck. We want to get her prepared sooner rather than later so when it becomes conference time she is ready to go. The key for her is to just stay healthy."

The guards will be on full display on Nov. 6 at UMass Lowell. Bryant's home opener will be held on Nov. 8 as they host cross-state foe Brown at the Chace Athletic Center. To purchase tickets to a Bryant women's basketball home game, click HERE.