Women’s basketball will face off against Division I UVM in season opener

The Norwich women’s basketball team. Norwich Athletics Photo

For the first time in 19 years, a Norwich University athletics team will play against a Division I program when the NU women’s basketball team tips off against the University of Vermont (UVM) in a nationally televised tilt on Nov. 15, in Burlington, Vt.

The Cadets will battle the UVM Catamounts in a 7 p.m. tilt in the confines of UVM’s Patrick Gymnasium, in a game that will be broadcasted live on ESPN3. The match-up will serve as the women’s basketball team’s season opener, marking the beginning of the 25-game regular season that will last until the end of February 2018.

The Cadets, who have been practicing since Oct. 15, have been eagerly anticipating the contest against the Catamounts. “I think it’s going to be a great challenge,” said senior forward and captain Arianna Harrison, a 21-year old criminal justice major from Vernon, Vt., “It’s really going to show how we are going to be as a team.”

The Catamounts enter the 2017-18 season coming off a 9-20 overall record from last year, including a 6-10 record in the America East (AE) Conference. UVM will have played two games already against Dartmouth University in Hanover, N.H., and Miami University in Coral Gables, Fla., by the time they play the Cadets.

The Catamounts return their top two leading scorers from the 2016-17 season in senior guard Sydney Smith, who averaged 12.1 points per game last season, and sophomore forward Hannah Crymble, who recorded 11.4 points per game.

The Cadets, meanwhile, tallied a 16-11 overall record during the 2016-17 season, with a 9-7 mark in Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) play. While NU lost their top two leading scorers from graduation, the team will turn to Harrison and fellow senior captain Shyann Josler. Josler and Harrison averaged nine and 8.6 points per game, respectively, last season.

With the roster comprising eight freshmen and 10 upperclassmen, Harrison said that the program has a “great incoming class,” adding that “upperclassmen have been doing a great job at filling their roles and being leaders for the underclassmen,” especially with the UVM game approaching in the coming days. Harrison added that, with just a few weeks practice so far into the season, the women’s basketball team has been “progressing how we should be.”

Like Harrison, the women’s basketball coaching staff, consisting of ninth-year head coach Mark Zacher and first-year assistant coach Richard Ziegler, agreed that the team has been making great strides, particularly when looking ahead at their first game of the season. “I am very pleased with the progress my team is making,” Zacher said. “Our team is very excited to have the opportunity to play UVM. To have the challenge of playing a Div. I program is an experience that our players are looking forward to and will remember for a long time.”

With UVM starting practice as early as the summer, Ziegler admitted that the Norwich women’s basketball program was “facing an uphill battle,” but that “the players are learning and developing quickly.”

Along with playing an in-state Division I program, an added incentive to the players’ excitement towards the UVM game was ESPN’s involvement in broadcasting the contest. “It’s a great opportunity,” said junior forward Vanessa Fleury, a 20-year old nursing major from Lebanon, N.H. “We’ll get our name out there, show people what we’re made of, and what we can do.”

“It puts the stakes a little higher because we want to do well,” said guard Riley Bennett, a 19-year old freshman nursing major from Hopkinton, N.H. “It’s more people seeing us, hearing about us, knowing about us, and seeing what we can do.” The UVM game will serve as Bennett’s first collegiate game of her career.

The game may also serve as a means for the women’s basketball program and the university to receive national recognition and exposure. “Recognition for the program is no doubt,” Ziegler said. “Those who don’t know the name will learn about the great tradition of Norwich University and what it has to offer.”

As both the first game of the 2017-18 season and the only regular season game this year that will be played against a Div. I opponent by the women’s basketball team, the contest will “set us up well for the rest of the season,” Bennett suggested.

Zacher stressed the importance of what the team could take away from playing UVM as well. “Any level of success that we have as a team can only but give our players and our team confidence as we face the rest of our schedule,” Zacher said.

The contest between NU and UVM will mark the first time both women’s basketball programs have met since Feb. 5, 1979, when the Cadets defeated the UVM “B” squad, 63-60, according to the NU athletic records. The last time a Norwich athletics team faced a NCAA Div. I opponent in a regular season match-up was when the men’s hockey team played College of the Holy Cross from Worcester, Mass., on Feb. 28, 1998.

Harrison said she hopes that this November’s tilt against UVM will be the start of a new custom for the Norwich women’s basketball program. “It’s definitely new, it’s going to be a great experience,” Harrison said. “I hope that it goes well so it can maybe become a tradition.”

Update: Norwich got a good practice lesson in the game, falling to the Catamounts by a score of 75-31. The lady Cadets have a 1-4 record As oc Dec. 4.

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