It has been nearly two years since it has been on the court, but the Ithaca College women’s basketball team has its sights set on a “three-peat” as Liberty League champions. After winning the Liberty League in 2018–19 and 2019–20, the Bombers seek to be the first team to win the conference three seasons in a row.
Six freshmen and three sophomores will be making their debuts for the Bombers this year. The team also has 12 upperclassmen returning this winter. Head coach Dan Raymond, who is entering his 22nd year at the college, says his team is still getting to know each other and learning who the team members are as basketball players. Raymond had never seen the freshman players play in person until this fall.
“All the young players are contributing the best they can right now,” Raymond said. “[They are] figuring out their roles right now, which we’re all in the same boat here.”
Cara Volpe, senior guard and forward, echoed a similar sentiment, saying the most challenging part of the season would be getting to know players’ abilities on the court.
“It’s going to take us a little to mesh and play well together,” Volpe said. “Especially since we have a large team.”
The Bombers roster has increased to 21 players this year, while the squad had just 16 players during the 2019–20 season. Volpe also recalled her time as a freshman, touching on the importance of underclassmen.
“As freshmen, we didn’t play much, but we worked hard every day,” Volpe said. “I think the reason our team was so good was because of how hard we worked at practice to make other girls better.”
Volpe appeared in 19 games in her debut campaign on South Hill. She started all 29 games in her sophomore season, recording 135 points, 124 rebounds and 78 assists. Volpe earned 2020–21 Liberty League All-Academic Honors last year and will look to build on her success this year.
Leadership and experience will play a big role in the Bombers’ title pursuit. Raymond said his team is fortunate enough for its three graduate students, Grace Cannon, Kelly Lamarre and Megan Yawman, as well as the five seniors, to be leaders of this team.
“They’re doing a really good job of managing all the things that have to be taken care of in regards to leadership,” Raymond said.
Cannon is one of the leaders who will look to be a key contributor for the Bombers. She finished the 2019–20 season with 380 points, 186 rebounds, 29 assists, 44 steals and 39 blocks. Cannon was also named to the 2020–21 Liberty League All-Academic team.
Cannon is one of three graduate students on the team this year and she is entering her fourth campaign with the Bombers. She said she has seen older players step into a leadership role, as well as taking her own actions to be a leader for her teammates.
“I’ve seen with my fellow [graduate] students and the seniors who were on the team step up and be more vocal leaders,” Cannon said. “And I myself, even in practice, have tried talking more and being more of a vocal leader in years past because there is lack of experience.”
The team primarily trained last spring due to the season being canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Bombers also played a pair of exhibition games against St. John Fisher College and the Rochester Institute of Technology. Cannon said the loss of last season was disappointing, but there were many positive takeaways from the team.
“For this year, I think everyone’s really excited,” Cannon said. “It’s contributed to having a lot more positive outlooks from the team overall. We’ve been waiting two years for the time to play together.”
Despite these challenges, both Cannon and Volpe have ambitions to earn yet another Liberty League title and to advance through the NCAA Tournament.
“Every year, we hope to be better than the last year,” said Cannon. “We’re hoping to be the only team to ever have a ‘three-peat’ for Liberty League. We see ourselves as our biggest competitors, so if we can continue to push each other to be better, then we should be the best team in the Liberty League.”
Volpe echoed a similar sentiment, saying she is looking forward to the opportunity to compete for a third consecutive Liberty League title this winter.
“No one’s had three in a row, so we’re hoping to get that, which I think we will,” Volpe said.
Volpe said the time the team has been able to work out together has helped fuel the excitement of this season.
“I know me and a lot of my teammates worked hard over the summer, whether it be conditioning, lifting or getting shots off,” Volpe said. “Some of us live near each other, so we’ve been staying in touch doing workouts together.”
Raymond said his team is simply eager to get back on the court and compete. Cannon and Volpe also expressed their excitement to start the season. Despite the long wait and a “three-peat” in sight, Raymond said the team’s goals never change.
“We’re always trying to focus on the process of being successful as far as getting wins and all that stuff,” Raymond said. “That doesn’t change. What we do, how we do it; that’s the most important thing, and most of that is done and taken care of in practice and preparation for when the players can actually go out and perform on the court in games.”
The Bombers’ season is set to tip-off against Hartwick College at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 13 in Oneonta, New York.