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PREVIEW: Knights tip off regular season against Royals

PREVIEW: Knights tip off regular season against Royals

The 2018-19 Niagara Knights women's basketball program is ready to start their regular season this weekend, as they open the season with a home game against the Redeemer Royals on October 19th.

After finishing last season 14-6, a program record, the Knights ended up finishing fourth in the OCAA West. In the playoffs, Niagara came just one-win shy of their first medal since 2003, losing to the Mohawk Mountaineers in the OCAA Bronze Medal matchup.

As the team gears up for this season, they hope that some new faces will help the veteran core improve from a year ago. The Knights will welcome back some key pieces to their team, including second-year Guard Hannah Baker (Thorold), who started 16 games for Niagara in her rookie campaign, averaging 3.6 points and 2.9 assists per game.

Third-year Forward Tia Stys (St. Catharines), who averaged 6.8 points per game last year while playing just 13.7 minutes per game is also set to rejoin the team. Joining them in returning will be Forward Steenika Gilbert (Owen Sound), Forward Samantha Baptie (Mississauga), Forward Kim Shephard (Woodstock), and Guard Rysa Delmundo (Niagara Falls).

An exciting feature to the Knights 2018-19 roster will be the number of high-caliber players joining the team. The Knights will welcome Guard Bridget Atkinson (Welland) who should make an immediate impact on the court. Atkinson has previously spent time playing for both the Guelph Gryphons and the Brock Badgers of the OUA. While playing in the OUA, the former Junior National team member was named the USports Rookie of the Year, an OUA second team all-star and was a Team Ontario selection.

Joining Atkinson will be fellow rookies Kirstyn Atkins (Welland), a local product from Welland Centennial who will play guard for the Knights and Guard Sophia Al-Kayed (St. Catharines), a dual-sport athlete who will join the basketball team once her season with the women's soccer program wraps up. Rounding out the rookie core are Guard Allanah Yates (Hamilton), Guard Siarra Stefan (Woodstock) and Guard Hayley Reynolds (St. Catharines).

Knights Head Coach Mike Beccaria will return for his sixth season with the program, coming in with a career record of 56-37 which is Niagara's best winning-percentage (.608) under any head coach in program history.

After going 2-3 in the preseason, the Knights will look to build off of a win in their final exhibition match when they open up their regular season. 

"We had an interesting pre-season," said Beccaria. "We've been trying to adapt an identity as a team and it's taking some time. We have lots of new faces, so it takes time."

The Knights will need to find that identity quickly, as they lost their most valuable player from the past few seasons in Mary Ingribelli. The Knights will need some players to step up in her place, as Ingribelli averaged a team-leading 19.1 points per game a season ago on route to being named OCAA West Division First-Team All-Star. Her contributions were a main factor on a Knights team which had an extremely high-powered offense, one that scored 70.0 points per game, good enough for seventh in the OCAA. 

The Knights also played extremely well defensively last season, surrendering on-average just 62.7 points per game which was also good enough for seventh in the OCAA. One thing the Knights will need to improve on is their rebounding, which was bottom five in the OCAA last year, averaging 26.1 rebounds per game.

The Knights host the Redeemer Royals in their season opener on Friday, October 19th. Opening tip-off is set for 6pm at the Welland Campus Athletic Centre. Admission is free for all students, while admission for the public is $5. The game will be broadcast live at www.goknights.ca/watchlive.