BY STEPHEN CHOTT
The women’s basketball team is coming off a historical season in which they made it to the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament, but there are several questions surrounding the team after losing many key players.
The team graduated six seniors and only left behind a few with game experience at the collegiate level. One of those players, Julia McLaughlin, has stepped into the spotlight as one of two seniors on the 2015-16 team who’s ready to show that her team is as hungry as ever and eager to return to the tournament.
McLaughlin has gotten playing time ever since her rookie season, where she won CAC Rookie of the Year, and has shown growth as a player every season since.
“Her work ethic has stepped up,” head coach Kelly Lewandowski said. “We joke around that when she first got here I probably yelled at her about 90 percent of the time because the transition from high school to college is a different game and she had some bad habits.”
McLaughlin agrees with her coach, and adds that she’s gotten smarter on the court with her decision making, as well as becoming more mature.
The team will rely on McLaughlin’s maturity this season, as the departing seniors take with them not only minutes on the court, but immeasurable leadership on and off of it.
“Off the court is very hard because we’re all very close. We’re a family and that’s 15 other girls that you can always text (or) go eat Commons with,” McLaughlin said. “On the court we lost a lot of scoring from the seniors that left and a lot of leadership. There was always a lot of talking, they were the people I looked up to and they aren’t there on the court. It’s been tough to transition but we’re working together.”
As a senior, McLaughlin will be looked to for that leadership; a challenge she believes she’s ready for. That leadership shouldn’t be hard for McLaughlin, as her teammate, junior Lauren Rothfeld says that McLaughlin’s work ethic makes her a natural leader that everybody feeds off of on the court.
“Julia is one of the best people I’ve met. Especially on the court, her attitude is just go big or go home,” Rothfeld said. “Every day she gives it 110 percent out there. Having her be one of the leaders is definitely a big confidence boost. She brings the energy and sets the tone.”
Rothfeld will be the other key returning player for the Sea Gulls this season as they lead their young squad throughout the season. Playing with McLaughlin for three years, she’s learned a lot about her teammate, including that she absolutely hates losing at anything, including drills.
“She’s all about winning,” Rothfeld said. “When Julia doesn’t win a game and you’re on her team, you know you’re winning the next one.”
Even in her senior year of college, McLaughlin remembers her high school coach telling her that she had a habit of turning everything into a game.
“I’m very competitive, and I don’t like to lose at all,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin found herself in a very similar situation when she was a senior in high school, coming off a county tournament appearance which had several seniors graduate after. Like then, she had to step up and lead the younger players on her team.
“Even though we lose the older girls we’re not going to stop working hard, we’re not going to lose confidence, and we’re not going to stop being who we are. We have to build, recover and grow,” McLaughlin said.
Leadership comes naturally to some, and even though she admitted to being a follower at times, thanks to being the youngest child of her family, McLaughlin has the work ethic, competitive spirit and skill to lead the Sea Gulls on the court. Even though she’s gotten playing time since her freshman year, many seem to overlook her play when predicting how the Sea Gulls will finish this year.
“She’s so athletic it makes her hard to guard. She’s got a good midrange game so it makes it hard for most players that have to come out and play her. If someone smaller guards her, she’s able to go inside and score,” Lewandowski said.
Her skill was on display in the first game of the season, as McLaughlin recorded her first double-double putting up 22 points and collecting 19 rebounds in their comeback win against Virginia Wesleyan. Her leadership could be seen in the box score but also on the court as she led the comeback.
“She’s a good coach on the court. She can do things for the team on the court that I can’t while I’m on the sidelines,” Lewandowski said.