Last season couldn't have gone much better for Megan Duffy in her debut year as head coach of Miami's women's basketball squad. She led the 'Hawks to the biggest turnaround in the nation as a first-year coach with a 21-11 record.
"It's fun when you taste a few more victories than in the past," Duffy said. "The expectations have risen. But it's nothing we don't talk about every day in practice."
In the Mid-American Conference Tournament semifinals, the RedHawks came up just short, losing 61-58 to Central Michigan, the tournament champion and eventual NCAA Sweet 16 qualifier.
Now, the pressure is on Miami to prove last year wasn't a fluke. The consensus, and most importantly its competitors in the MAC, understand Duffy's team isn't to be taken lightly. MU was picked to finish second in the MAC East Division in the coaches' conference preseason poll. Buffalo earned 62 points in the poll, but the 'Hawks were right behind with 61 points.
"I've always been somebody that, with my background, doesn't worry too much about expectations or pressure because there's so much to get done on the court," Duffy said in the pre-season press conference.
The RedHawks will be led by junior guard Lauren Dickerson and senior forward Kendall McCoy -- both were picked for the Preseason All-MAC East Division Team. McCoy averaged 12.8 points and six rebounds per game last season while Dickerson put up a team-high 19.6 points and 5.3 assists per contest.
Other standout veterans and likely starters are senior guard Leah Purvis, junior forward Savannah Kluesner and redshirt senior guard Baleigh Reid.
Junior forward Abbey Hoff will be a welcome addition to the frontcourt after missing the entirety of last season with an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury.
The RedHawks will play a faster, more athletic style this season if all goes according to plan.
"Defensively, we were pretty simple last year," Duffy said. "Hopefully, we'll be able to get up and down the court and have bodies that can cover a little more space than we did last year."
To balance her veteran roster and play that different defensive game, Duffy could turn to her five freshmen, especially guards Kennedy Taylor and Nia Clark. Each standing at 5-foot-9, the first-year duo will add some needed length to the backcourt and will have an opportunity to prove whether they have what it takes to handle the grueling collegiate season.
Freshman forward Tihanna Fulton was expected to be a part of the rotation as well, but suffered a foot injury that will set her back "for a few months," according to Duffy.
Enjoy what you're reading?
Signup for our newsletter
"I'll tell you what, never at any point in my career have I ever heard a freshman go, 'Hey, coach, this is easier than I thought it was going to be,'" Duffy said. "I think the big word for them is just finding some consistency."
The RedHawks handily defeated Tiffin University 93-59 in an exhibition game on Sunday afternoon in Millett Hall. The team looked energetic and excited to return to their home court in front of Miami fans. Kluesner led the team with 24 points.
Duffy declined to comment after the game.
A standard of success has been set by Duffy and her basketball program. Maintaining that success will be even more difficult this season with the element of surprise gone and targets on their backs.
The 'Hawks open their season at Canisius College Friday night. Tip-off is at 7 p.m.