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  • Colton Pankiewicz

Women's basketball emphasizes the importance of culture heading into the season

By Colton Pankiewicz, Sports Editor

After finishing the 2022-23 campaign with a record of 9–21 overall and exiting the MAAC tournament with a first round loss, Sahar Nusseibeh’s program sought out a new look. Seven players from last year's roster have either graduated or transferred, while six new faces have emerged. Despite losing her top three scorers in Dani Haskell, Vannessa Garrelts and Cheyenne Stubbs, scoring wasn't the priority when searching for players in the offseason: culture was.

“I wasn’t thinking about replacing certain skill sets, but finding competitive winners who wanted to be here and wanted to win with us,” said the Griffs head coach.

One of the “competitive winners” that Nusseibeh brought along was graduate student Grace Heeps. The fifth-year student started her trek with the University of Massachusetts before transferring to Albany, where she spent the last three years. Her junior year, she was a part of a Great Danes team that reached the NCAA Tournament, and last season ended with a trip to the NIT Tournament.

At first glance, Heeps wasn’t interested in coming to the city of Buffalo. It wasn’t until her visit that she knew she’d spend her graduate season at Canisius. “I didn’t plan on coming here, but I always respected coach Sahar — her philosophy, and her as a person. When I came for my visit, I met the team and got to talk about the Xs and Os with the coaches. When my parents asked what I had thought, I told them I was coming to Canisius. I think this team brings a lot of grit and hunger: everyone’s on the same page,” said Heeps.

Nusseibeh went on to compliment her team's intelligence, explaining how she thinks it will affect the outlook of the team. “I think we’ve gone from having players to having a team. I’ll be calling plays less than before because we have a very high team IQ,” she said.

The team did a lot off the court this summer to create chemistry that people in the building believe will translate on the court. Whether it was their visit to the Buffalo Boxing club or their trip to NYC to watch the Liberty play, the Griffs have spent a significant time together. “I think there's a correlation, and what you’re doing off the court helps you learn on the court,” added Nusseibeh.

Canisius was recently picked by other MAAC coaches to finish ninth in the conference, matching the same pre-season rankings as a year ago. Sophomore Chloe Chard-Peloquin reflected on the rankings, showing that this isn't the same team as a year ago. “I think last year we had three people responsible for the majority of the production, this year we’re more reliant on everyone to produce,” she said.

The confidence in the building is certain, and the Griffs will get their chance to prove themselves on Monday in their season opener at UB.

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