|Senior All-American Lisa Murphy has her sights set high for her final season.
Carnegie Mellon Athletics photo
Reaching the Sweet 16 again and advancing past it is the goal for the Carnegie Mellon women's basketball team.
The Tartans realize that's no easy task, especially after graduating a pair of 1,000-point scorers in Lindsay Poss and Liza Otto.
However, they are bolstered by sophomore point guard Jenn Mayberger, senior guard Jackie Hudepohl and senior center Lisa Murphy, an All-American. Those three helped guide the squad to the Sweet 16 last year and a 21-7 mark.
Carnegie Mellon's postseason run and its returning talent opened many eyes, though. The Tartans' climb up the Top 25 only adds to the attention.
"Last year was a magical season for us. This is the first time since I have been here that we entered the season ranked," Carnegie Mellon head coach Jacquie Hullah said. "We've had a target on our back all season and I am really pleased with how our kids have responded. A year ago, we were trying to gain respect and, now, everyone is trying to take us down. The kids are handling it with a lot of maturity and poise."
According to Murphy, Carnegie Mellon's players welcome the spotlight.
"Last season did make us a lot hungrier and now we have higher expectations and a target on our back, which is new for us," she said. "This year, we realized other teams see us a threat and they want to beat us. It's been a different experience being on the other side of it. It's really motivating, too."
The Tartans' young players seem unfazed as well. Other than Hudepohl and Murphy and juniors Anna Novak, who moved into the starting lineup, and Zoe Zawisa, a reserve forward, the team is loaded with youth – two sophomores and seven freshmen.
"We're very young. Over half our team is freshmen. There's been a lot of teaching and growing so far this season," Murphy said. "The young players have stepped up. It's really exciting to see how much they have grown and how much they can grow. We have a nice mix of shooters, playmakers and rebounders. We're happy with where we are and where our freshmen are."
Any growing pains haven't shown up on the scoreboard, so far. Carnegie Mellon wrapped up its nonconference slate at 11-0.
"I think we've made a lot of progress through our nonconference schedule. It was a competitive schedule for us. We played eight of the 11 on the road. I think that was really important for the team to be consistent and win with that much travel. I am very pleased with that," Hullah said. "I think we can give a lot of credit to our two senior captains. They are just tremendous leaders. Incorporating seven freshmen into the team has been an interesting learning curve for all."
Despite the early success, the Tartans believe they're a work in progress. Freshman Makayla Filiere started all 11 of the team's nonconference games, while Katharine Higgins started the last two with Hudepohl out with an injury. Freshmen Laurel Pereira, Megan Jaeb, Dominique Petach, Cameron Pitts and Laura Ochsner have seen game minutes.
"With having a freshman or two in the starting lineup, it has taken time but we have a really good flow now," Murphy said. "We didn't expect one or two people to step up and replace Lindsay and Liza. We've had a lot of people step up in little ways.
"I think we're really excited to go undefeated in our nonconference schedule. I think we played some tough teams and were able close out a lot of games. We put ourselves in good position going into UAA play."
Carnegie Mellon opens its UAA schedule on Jan. 7 against Case Western Reserve. Last year, the Tartans finished tied for third in the UAA standings at 8-8 and received an at-large bid to the tournament. They hope to challenge for the title this year.
"Playing in the UAA is one of my favorite parts of this experience. We play tough teams and battle smart players. It's a challenge, but also really fun," Murphy said. "Playing in the UAA gives us a lot of chances to play in close games, but also a chance to play against really tough teams. The UAA really does battle test you and helps you to be able to do well in the postseason."
Murphy, who continues to rewrite Carnegie Mellon's program records, wants to finish her career on a positive note. The psychology major is averaging a career-best 25.3 points and 12.4 rebounds per game.
"I think, for a little while, I was in denial I was a senior. I have embraced it, though. I try to play every game like it's my last," she said. "I am just so excited for the entire program. It's exciting to see the changes over the past couple years.
"I am happy to be scoring because that's part of the game. I am just glad to be a leader this year and help the young players continue to grow. To see a lot of the young players get better is rewarding for me."