Thanks to Barefoot, attitude surrounding women’s basketball has changed for the better

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Thanks to Barefoot, attitude surrounding women’s basketball has changed for the better

Jenny DeGraaf (21) posts up a East Carolina defender in a game during the 2016-2017 UNCW women's basketball season.

Jenny DeGraaf (21) posts up a East Carolina defender in a game during the 2016-2017 UNCW women's basketball season.

UNCW Athletic Communications

Jenny DeGraaf (21) posts up a East Carolina defender in a game during the 2016-2017 UNCW women's basketball season.

UNCW Athletic Communications

UNCW Athletic Communications

Jenny DeGraaf (21) posts up a East Carolina defender in a game during the 2016-2017 UNCW women's basketball season.

Lanre Badmus, Staff Writer

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With a new season often comes new optimism, hope and expectations. For a team with a brand-new coaching staff, that sense of optimism is usually heightened.

That is the case for the UNC Wilmington women’s basketball team, for whom the 2017-18 season will be the beginning of the Karen Barefoot era. Barefoot, who was named UNCW’s 11th women’s basketball head coach in May, will be looking to help the Seahawks improve on last season’s 11-20 record and second-round elimination in its conference tournament under previous coach Adell Harris.

UNCW went 42-112 overall and had three seasons of single-digit wins in five years under Harris, who took over before the 2012-13 campaign. Harris had replaced Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, who guided the Seahawks to a WNIT berth in 2011-12, the last time the program saw any postseason action.

After six seasons as head coach at Old Dominion, Barefoot was ready for a new challenge and liked the potential she saw in the Seahawks team when she chose to take on the job at UNCW. As a result, a new wave of enthusiasm is reverberating around the Wilmington camp.

“When I first got here, I was very excited to come in and meet [the players] and get to know them and build relationships,” said Barefoot. “I see them getting better and becoming a family. The team chemistry is amazing and they’re great, great individuals.”

Barefoot, who is affectionately nicknamed “Red Bull” for her energetic approach to coaching, noted her commitment and her dedication to her players but also wanted them to have fun all while competing out on the court.

“I want them to be them,” she said. “I want them to go out there and be free and loose. I want them to go out there and enjoy this great game. I think they feel comfortable and they’re not afraid to make mistakes. Because as we go, those mistakes will lessen, so who cares?”

UNCW will be looking to seniors Madison Raque, Jenny DeGraaf and Rebekah Banks to lead the team this season. Barefoot said she believes Banks, a center, can lead the CAA in rebounding in 2018.

The Seahawks will also be hoping for big contributions from sophomore guards Timber Tate and Lacey Suggs, the latter of whom was singled out as having really impressed Barefoot in practice despite her lack of playing time – she scored only two points in three games last season.

Raque, a guard, was UNCW’s leading scorer last season at 10.7 points per game. She said she has noticed a difference in the atmosphere surrounding the team heading into her senior season and that her confidence and scoring ability have been the two biggest improvements she’s noticed from her freshman year to now.

She’s aware of her role as a leader in the team to help inspire the freshmen to top-level performances.

“We’ve had a more positive atmosphere, so just having Coach Barefoot in our heads telling us that we can do anything is a big help for us,” said Raque, who also noted that the team has made a 180-degree change in the first 100 days of Barefoot’s tenure.

DeGraaf, a forward who transferred from Penn. State two years ago, said that Barefoot brings tons of energy and positivity to the team, and the team enjoys playing under her.

“Everyone’s excited to start the new season,” she said. “It’s always exciting to get to play again, but the positivity of the new coaching staff has made it that much more exciting.”

When asked whether her role would change, DeGraaf said that she is in Barefoot’s plans, but she will “do whatever Coach wants me to do” to the best of her ability. She averaged 7.3 points and 4.7 rebounds in 20.5 minutes per game last season, coming off the bench in all but eight of the 30 games she played.

Tate said the team loves Barefoot. She added that she has worked on her jump shot and she has more confidence in her ballhandling skills and knows she brings to the team. Tate said she was looking to improve on her numbers 5.5 points and 2.3 rebounds per game in 26 games last season. She shot 29 percent from three-point range in her freshman year.

The Seahawks will play an exhibition game at Trask Coliseum against Greensboro College on Oct. 29 before opening the regular season in November with two home games against in-state opponents UNC Pembroke and East Carolina.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to the UNCW women’s basketball team as the Lady Seahawks.

Staff Writer Lanre Badmus can be found on Twitter @LonnyBadmon. Any tips or suggestions should be forwarded via email to uncwseahawksports@gmail.com. For video updates from The Seahawk, subscribe to our YouTube channel.