By Christopher Smith firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — Merrimack second-year coach Monique LeBlanc hasn’t gone easy on Melissa Miller of North Andover so far this year.
“If there’s one player that I’ve just really ridden from day one of this preseason until now it would be her,” LeBlanc said. “As I keep telling her, that’s because I see a lot in her. And I expect a lot from her and we need a lot from her.
”She’s obviously a very good player,” LeBlanc added. “She had a very good high school career at Central (Catholic). And when I see these moments from her, I want them all the time.”
Merrimack women’s basketball opens its season against Fisher College at 7 p.m. Thursday at home.
Miller, a 6-foot sophomore forward, should receive more playing off the bench this year after a tough freshman season in which she played in just 12 games because of mononucleosis, which she was diagnosed around midseason.
”I’ve really been pushing her in this preseason to squeeze more out of her,” LeBlanc said. “I expect her to give us a good scoring spark as well as a big rebounding presence because I think those are her two most natural areas.”
LeBlanc also has been working hard to make Miller a better defensive player.
”I think that she just doesn’t give herself enough credit for what she can do defensively,” LeBlanc said. “But I think she’s got good speed and she doesn’t mind playing physical so I think she’s going to turn into a good defender for us as well.”
Miller and LeBlanc have established a strong relationship.
”She’s definitely been really tough on me,” Miller said. “We talk about it. I don’t take it personally. I take it as a compliment that ... she knows how much potential I have and how far I can go. And we’ve had numerous talks about that.”
Miller’s highest scoring game of her freshman campaign was a six-point performance vs. Bridgeport.
”We’re really a defensive-mindset team this year,” Miller said. “More emphasis is (placed on) working on our defense, which is going to create our offense. So far this season a lot of practice time is working on our defense because we do have a good defense going this year. And that’s how we’re going to win our games.”
Miller often got into foul trouble early in games last year. Preventing that also is something Miller and LeBlanc have worked on together this preseason.
”They were more of hands-on fouls so we’ve worked on moving my feet faster and (getting) my hands off,” Miller said. “I definitely think I’ve improved on that since last year.”
Miller is enjoying Merrimack College. She is a business administration major.
”It’s a great fit for me,” she said. “Small campus. You know more people on campus. ... You get more one-on-one with the teachers because the classrooms are so much smaller.”
Merrimack was picked to finish 14th in the league in the Northeast-10 Conference Preseason Coaches Poll.
”I think that (low ranking) has been really motivational for us,” Miller said. “Our team has worked very, very hard since last season to prove everyone wrong. ... I expect us to do great things.”
The Warriors’ 12-player roster consists of just two seniors and one junior.
”I certainly understand why were were picked 14th coming off a tough year last year with a very young team and coming back, we’re still very young,” LeBlanc said. “That being said, while we’re young, we have a lot of new faces. And we’ve added a lot to our team — not just in sheer numbers, which was really critical for us. We had eight healthy players at any given time last year and that made it tough.
”We have 12 players on the roster (this year), but in addition to adding numbers, we’ve also added some key areas that we felt like we needed,” LeBlanc added. “I’m really excited about the five newcomers that we added. But additionally, I’m very excited about our returners.”
No respect Merrimack was picked to finish 14th in the league in the Northeast-10 Conference Preseason Coaches Poll.