Tipoff can't come soon enough for the Richard Stockton College women's basketball team.
The Ospreys are sick of playing against each other. Stockton has endured a lengthy preseason of practices without much scrimmaging against other teams.
While many teams played in annual tipoff tournaments over the weekend, Stockton kept practicing.
To say the Ospreys are excited to start the season may be a slight understatement.
"We're tired of scrimmaging each other," senior forward/
guard Che'Na Thompson said. "We're ready to get out there and go for it."
Stockton opens its season today with a 6 p.m. New Jersey Athletic Conference game against Kean University at the Stockton Athletic Center in Galloway Township.
Thompson, a fourth-year starter, averaged 10.4 points and 7.4 rebounds in 2011-12 as the Ospreys went 18-12 and won the ECAC Metro Tournament. She will be called upon to lead a team in transition, though the Ospreys still were picked to finish fourth in the preseason NJAC coaches' poll, getting one first-place vote.
The Ospreys are in the midst of a shift in offensive philosophy. Stockton must replace two four-year starters in graduated forward LaTonya Oliver and point guard Aliyah Nelson.
For the past three years, Stockton ran an offense centered around Nelson getting the ball inside to Oliver, who averaged 12.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per game and led the nation in field-goal percentage (.610) for NCAA Division III.
"They were the mainstay of our offense. ... When you lose that, you lose a lot," said Stockton coach Joe Fussner, in his 21st season.
With Oliver and Nelson gone, Fussner said the Ospreys will have to run a more open offense. It's a transition the eight returning players - and three new starters - have to take into account.
Sophomore guard Brittany Muniz is the team's other returning starter. She is a steady outside shooter who led the NJAC in 3-pointer last winter, making 1.7 per game. Muniz will play on the wing along with sophomore Alex Nardoza.
Thompson, whom Fussner called a very even-keeled player, provides guidance to the team. She has confidence in her teammates but acknowledges that her role will be different than it was a year ago.
"I have that bull's-eye on me. I'm the only one that's been here for four years," she said. "Everyone will expect a lot from me and I expect a lot from myself."
However, the Ospreys will get senior leadership from a new player as well.
Alexa Ryan was a three-year starter at Ramapo College before transferring to Stockton this year. The forward has 975 career points and earned all-NJAC honors twice in the past three seasons.
Ryan is one of two transfers who give Stockton a unique advantage - both players come from NJAC teams.
Also wearing an Ospreys uniform for the first time is sophomore Sara Farrell, a Montclair State transfer who will have an impact.
"It's nice to get a transfer. It's even nicer to get them when they've played in your league," Fussner said.
Other players to watch at Stockton include senior Sarah Gibbs, an Ocean City High School graduate who will run the point. Gibbs transferred to Stockton last January from Manhattanville, and the long preseason was an immense opportunity for her to study the Ospreys' offense.
Inside is 6-foot-2 sophomore Kelsey Brown, who will be Stockton's primary option in the paint. Brown also runs the floor well, has great hands and thrives in transition, Fussner said.
With its new players in place, the Ospreys expect to be better in terms of overall team shooting and defense. Stockton will look to get some of its points off of turnovers.
Thompson wouldn't say much about her outlook on the season. Stockton will begin to see today how it fares without two critical pieces from last season.
She did say, however, that the Ospreys are coming together and working to find a rhythm to replace the presence they've lost.
"The adjustments haven't been the easiest. ... But we've made it work for us," Thompson said.
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