WORCESTER — While the victories of late have been few and often too far between for the Clark University women's basketball program, the Cougars' rich tradition isn't lost on today's players.
One look to the Kneller Athletic Center's rafters, and they hardly need any more motivation.
"(Assistant coach Marge) O'Brien led her team to the Final Four two years that she was here (1982, '83)," said junior forward Kelsey Giedymin (pronounced "Gedman") of Shrewsbury. "She's a presence here every day, and she reiterates that pretty often. We see her banners hanging up in the gym every day."
With a very young squad featuring seven sophomores, a long NCAA Tournament run may be a bit of a stretch. But after an encouraging second half last season, coach Pat Glispin can't help but be encouraged about these Cougars.
"History is only as important as it impacts us now," said Glispin, whose 28th season tips off Tuesday night at Fitchburg State, "but I think that we represent a great tradition. I feel that this group is the group that can bring us back to the sense of pride that we've always enjoyed here."
Giedymin and sophomore guard Emily Reilly of Marlboro are biology majors ("We take all kinds of fun classes together," says Giedymin) and are looking to playing major roles for Clark as second-year starters.
Lots was asked of Reilly as a freshman, but she led the team in scoring (13.5 ppg) and minutes played (30.3 per game) while starting all 26 games. The Cougars went only 9-17 but rallied to go 9-9 against NEWMAC opponents.
"It was kind of like a growing year because I was asked to do so much that it really tested my ability, and I had to rise to play with new competition," said Reilly, who poured in more than 1,000 points at Marlboro High.
"Her level of consistency was beyond expectations," Glispin said. "I knew coming out of high school that Emily was a great player, but to come in and be so consistent from the opening scrimmage? She's done everything we've ever asked of her."
Complementing Reilly is classmate Ashleigh Condon, the point guard from Hull who completes what may be a developing dynamic backcourt.
"When I looked at them last year, I thought how blessed I am to have this backcourt," Glispin said. "They complement each other really well, and I think they really enjoy playing with each other."
"We're really close off the court, so together we can mesh really well," Reilly said. "Sometimes I feel like she's in my head, knows where I'm going to be to get the pass, or I know where she's going to be to get it back to her."
"For us to be a strong team, Emily has to be productive in almost every category, on a stat sheet, in every intangible, she has to be a really important person for us," Glispin said. "She's a fabulous young woman. She will take on all that we ask of her with a smile the entire time."
Glispin also sees key contribution coming from Giedymin, who averaged 4.7 points and 4.1 rebounds while starting all but one game last season.
"Just very solid in all categories," the coach said. "She seems to be a young person who just always does the right thing. Kelsey has improved every year, and this year, I think she's been much more consistent in the preseason than she has been in the past, and that will really help us."
The 6-foot-1 Giedymin can score inside or out (she did drill 12 3-pointers last season), "but her rebounding is key for us," Glispin said.
"Rebounding, that's always a big thing for me, just consistently being in the mindset to be rebounding," Giedymin said. "Be defensive-minded and really help my team stay together and work on defense."
There are only two seniors on this squad, after having none last year, and two juniors, the other being reserve guard Theresa Pickens of Worcester and Claremont Academy. Youth could serve the Cougars well.
"We're a good pressing team and a good running team," Giedymin said. "We can get a lot of options out of our fast break, and our defense is strong. So if we stay focused on that, I think we have a shot at making the playoffs and hopefully playing for the (NEWMAC) championship."
"We haven't been at the top of the league for a while," Glispin said. "If you can develop your team over the course of the season, anything can happen at the end."