The East Carolina University women’s basketball team will face off against the Towson University Tigers on Nov. 25 in the first game for both teams since COVID-19 put an end to their seasons in March.
For the Pirates, this will be their first game since March 6 when they faced off against the Temple University Owls. At this time, ECU was in the middle of the American Athletic Conference (AAC) tournament.
McNeill said it has been different with more time to prepare for their season opener. She said that she is excited for the players and this season.
"You miss it when you're away from it. I think that's how we're feeling right now,” McNeill said. “We're just excited to be back in the gym, excited to have bodies back on the floor. I told our team, before you know it, November 25 will be here.”
Towson will play its first game since March 7 where they faced off against the Elon University Phoenix. The Tigers were set to play against the Northeastern University Huskies in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) tournament.
The Pirates will look to start off the season with a win against Towson. ECU finished the last season with an overall record of 9-21 and a record of 6-10 in the AAC. The Tigers finished their season with an overall record of 14-15 and a record of 9-9 in the CAA.
ECU head coach Kim McNeill signed four recruits for the 2020-2021 season. She said she was excited for this group and believes they will be able to make an impact during their time here.
"My staff and I did a great job of identifying young ladies who are committed to the culture that we are establishing here at East Carolina,” McNeill said. “All four of them excel in the classroom just as much as they do on the court. Each young lady brings a unique skill set to the team and I am anxiously looking forward to coaching them and impacting their lives.”
With this young group, the Pirates also have a group of older leaders for this season, such as senior guard Lashonda Monk and graduate student guard/forward Dominique Claytor.
Monk led the AAC in steals and was named AAC Defensive Player of the Year, which was a first for any player not from the University of Connecticut. In addition, Monk was named to the AAC’s preseason all first team for the 2020-2021 season.
Claytor appeared in all 30 games last season and made 24 starts for the Pirates. She led the team in rebounding on the season and finished with 92 steals. This feat placed her at fifth on the ECU all-time single-season list.
McNeill said that preparing for this season has been different with COVID-19 protocols. She said that they have had to adjust to practicing differently as a team.
“We did some different things this year, working a lot more one-on-one with the players one or two days a week. Another day doing small, specialized groups and then doing some team stuff,” McNeill said.
ECU finished No. 9 in the AAC last year, and they are picked to finish at No. 9 this season as well. The Pirates will look to build on that as they go into this season with a mix of new and experienced faces, as they have eight upperclassmen and eight underclassmen according to ECUPirates.
The Tigers finished fourth in the CAA last season. The team's official website said Towson has a mix of experienced players, with eight upperclassmen and five underclassmen.
On the defensive side last season, the Pirates ranked first in the AAC in steals per game. They had a total of 407, for an average of 13.6 per game. The next closest team was the Wichita State University Shockers, who had a total of 296 steals on the season, 111 less than the Pirates, according to the AAC.
McNeill said that she felt the team was starting to learn more as a group. She said that since most of the team is returning, they understand now what they are trying to do.
"Last year, everything was so new to everybody. All of the players, they were learning. Now we've actually got more than half of the team returning from last year and they understand the foundation of it,” McNeill said.
The Tigers ranked high in a few defensive categories for the CAA last season. They finished second in the CAA in field goal percentage defense, and ranked second in the AAC and 14th in the NCAA. They also allowed their opponents to only shoot 38.5 percent from the field, according to CAA sports. In addition, they protected the glass, as they finished second in the CAA in blocked shots, with a total of 152 on the season, for an average of 5.2 per contest.
The Pirates are set to face off against Towson on Nov. 25 at 2 p.m. The game will take place at SECU arena in Towson, Maryland.