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Golden Eagles hoping to soar up standings 

The Golden Eagles return nine players from last season’s team. (Photo Credit: Liv Metz/Brockport Athletics)

After an up-and-down campaign that saw the SUNY Brockport women’s basketball program finish 12-14 with a first-round exit in the SUNYAC Playoffs, hopes are high for the Golden Eagles heading into the 2023-24 season. Despite a middling finish last season, the Golden Eagles believe they have what it takes to make a rise in the standings this season. 

The biggest reason for optimism is continuity. Brockport returns all but one member of its rotation from last season. The Golden Eagles lost just their lone senior from last season, Anna Felice, who has remained with the team as a member of the coaching staff for this season.  

Amongst those key returners on the floor are the two leading scorers for the Golden Eagles last season, guard Stephanie Jean-Baptiste and forward Zairea Hannah. 

Jean-Baptiste is coming off a freshman season that saw her claim SUNYAC Rookie of the Year, averaging a team-high 10.7 points per game and pacing Brockport with a 30.3% mark from three. Now heading into her sophomore season, expectations are high internally.  

“She is going to be in a big role,” Brockport Head Coach Corinne Jones said. “For any rookie of the year in any sport you can sophomore slump or you can keep going. The biggest thing for her was strength so hopefully she comes back a little stronger. Hopefully, we can move her off the ball a bit. We have some sets we’re thinking for her to get her more looks.”  

Hannah meanwhile averaged 10.4 points per game with 9.9 rebounds per game to earn second-team All-SUNYAC honors. Hannah will be one of three seniors for the Golden Eagles this season along with defensive stalwart Hali Lucia and Juan Brown, who is recovering from a torn ACL suffered in the first half of the SUNYAC Playoffs loss last season. 

A major question mark however remains who can become the third reliable scoring option in the Brockport lineup besides Hannah and Jean-Baptiste. 

“If I had to pick, I think Anna Lee and Zoe Zutes can do some scoring,” Jones said. “It’s just a matter of if they can knock down shots. I think it’s still a question mark right now but if I was to name a couple it’d probably be them.” 

Both Zutes and Lee enter their junior campaigns for Brockport and have shown spurts of potentially being that player for the Golden Eagles.  

Lee finished last season averaging 6.3 points per game but poured in a career-high 16 points to lead a come-from-behind overtime win against Oswego in the last weekend of the regular season.  

Zutes meanwhile averaged just 4.7 points per game but scored eight or more points in five of the final six contests to end the season, including a career-high 13 in the playoff loss to Geneseo. 

Lee hopes she can take her game to the next level this season. 

“I’m hoping to be a more versatile scorer this season, take the open shots and also create shots for my teammates,” Lee said. “I put in work in the offseason to prepare myself for this season. It’s all about confidence and what I do in the offseason builds that confidence up.” 

The biggest key for ‘Team 48,’ as they are known internally, will be their ability to shoot the ball from distance. Jones is hoping to transition towards a more guard-heavy approach this season but will need her team’s three-point shooting to improve for the changes to pay off. 

Jones believes the shooting improvements will have to come from her team having confidence in their abilities to knock down shots. 

“We talked about in the spring in order to make the ball go in more we have to work in the offseason,” Jones said. “You have to have confidence; you have to step up and think your shot is going in before. It’s because you’ve shot the ball so much that you’re confident.”  

“What we did was tell them exactly that and they were kind of like ‘wow,’ Jones said. “We took care of the bottom half, we did fine. We were supposed to do that but, we have to split with those teams above us. I think just getting it out there in the room and saying what the elephant is we did. I think returning 11 players helps because they get it.”  

Despite the 0-9 record, there were opportunities for Brockport to pick up wins against the upper echelon of the conference. Brockport let a fourth-quarter edge as large as nine slip away at home in a one-point loss to Oneonta and watched a seven-point halftime deficit to New Paltz turn into a 23-point deficit. The inability to string together consistency ultimately doomed Brockport’s chances to be amongst the upper echelon last season. 

“This season we are hoping to learn from our mistakes and change those results,” Lee said. “We had a foundation set from last season and we are looking to build off it this season.” 

With Brockport returning more rotation players than any of the other top five teams in last year’s SUNYAC standings the Golden Eagles should have a major advantage in late game execution.  

Ultimately all Jones-coached teams will win or lose on the defensive end of the floor and this year’s Golden Eagles will likely be no different. Brockport ranked fourth in the SUNYAC last season in defensive efficiency while surrendering 62 points per game.  

After finishing tied atop the SUNYAC with 1.7 blocks per game, Zutes will look to anchor the Brockport defense once again. Lucia, Lee and Shannon Blankenship will also be called upon to provide critical minutes in the backcourt defensively.  

One area Jones is not concerned about her team is in the leadership department. With so many returning players, including the trio of junior captains Lee, Zutes and Blankenship. 

“I think I’m the most at peace with the leadership and our players,” Jones said. “They are at a place where they get more pissed than me about things and I have to tell them ‘calm down, it’ll be fine.’ When you have a group that is owning the experience and the program you know you’re going to be ok. I think probably the best I’ve felt in my tenure about this group.”  

With Brockport heading to the Empire 8 conference next season, this will mark Brockport’s last chance to capture a SUNYAC championship under Jones. They have advanced as far as the semifinals on two separate occasions in her eight-year tenure. 

“When I was hired, I thought within 10 years we could get a championship team out of Brockport,” Jones said. “I think a little bit personally and professionally this team can do it, but they got to do it. I’ve learned the more I push them they’re going to kind of backtrack. They have to have the motivation and I think they do. What I kind of told them was to mic drop on the SUNYAC and go into the Empire 8. I think we have some motivation to leave with one.”  

The quest to ‘mic drop’ out of the SUNYAC will begin on Nov. 14 when Brockport heads on the road to take on Alfred State. Only time will tell if the Golden Eagles are ready to soar amongst the elites this season. 

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