Over the past six years, Alison Tagliaferri has made a name for herself in the coaching ranks.

She has been both a head coach, and an assistant coach.

However, people in Mansfield likely remember her more as an All-Conference player for the Mountaineers.

The former Mansfield star is back with the Mountaineers, this time as the head coach of the team and she is joined on the sidelines by another recent Mansfield graduate, and former player, Katie Akins.

"It's definitely very exciting to be back here," Tagliaferri said. "I'm very appreciative of the opportunity. It's kind of surreal to be back on campus and not be here as an athlete anymore. It's nice to see the old faces, it's nice to be back."

For Tagliaferri there are a lot of challenges this year.

She is taking over a team that lost Mallory Moore, the first player in Mansfield women's basketball history to lead the conference in scoring, and she also was thrust into the interim head coaching role late in the summer after Ruth Hermansen stepped down to take another job with the university.

"We definitely got a later start," Tagliaferri said. "I didn't get the interim tag until about the week before practice started."

This season the Mountaineers will have a number of newcomers looking to contribute.

"We do have four seniors, but not a lot of them have a lot of playing experience," Tagliaferri said. "All around, as far as experience goes we are definitely young. There are so many new faces, and the returning players we have will be really counted on."

One place where the Mountaineers do have some experience is in the paint with senior Julia Stevenson and junior Jena Matter returning this year.

"We have a huge advantage in the post," Tagliaferri said. "As far as experience goes our other seniors Kayla (Espigh), Victoria and Emma (Lacey) they don't have as much experience."

For players like Matter and Stevenson this year is going to be a bit of an adjustment as they take on much bigger leadership roles on the team.

"It's a lot different really," Matter said. "I'm used to being one of the younger people, looking up to the upperclassmen. Now people are looking up to me.

"It is definitely different now. I was sitting in my room the other day and thinking about the fact that I'm one of the upperclassmen now."

When Tagliafferi played for Mansfield one of her teammates was Kayla Espigh's older sister Alicia. Now, Tagliafferi is coaching one of her teammates younger sisters.

While Espigh saw limited minutes last year, Tagliafferi believes she can be a big weapon this year.

"Kayla is a great shooter and a threat, especially as a three-point shooter," Tagliafferi said. "Our biggest focus with Kayla is on the defensive end. She is the type of player that needs to be n the game for us because of her shooting, so it's important that we work on her defense."

For Espigh this is an exciting time as she gets a new coach, and a new chance to try and earn herself playing time.

"It's very exciting," Espigh said. "The fact that we have a new coach and a lot of new freshmen coming in, it's an exciting time."

When she was younger Espigh used to watch her sister and Tagliafferi play, now she is playing for her sister's former teammate.

"It's definitely different, I saw my sister and her play and I saw how well they played together," Espigh said. "It's kind of exciting. It's also different being a senior, but having a new coach, I feel like a freshman again."

Espigh knows she has a chance to contribute this year, she also knows that her coach is right about her needing to work on defense.

"It's been my main focus," she said. "I have to work hard on my defense."

While Espigh has always been a huge threat as a shooter, she knows that if she can get consistent time on the court it will help her produce more.

"Being a shooter you need more than two minutes, you need to take several shots to get comfortable," Espigh said. "It's hard to do a lot in a couple of minutes, specially if the defense doesn't let you touch the ball a lot."

The Mountaineers are going to have some new faces in the backcourt, and the one player who saw a lot of time last year, sophomore Alyssa DeRichie, will see time at the point to start this year.

"Alyssa is playing out of position right now," Tagliafferi said. "We have Megan McSwain, who should be with us next semester and we think she will be a huge asset for us. Katie Fitzpatrick is another freshman from Upper Darby who we think will hurt us and Shaleta Heyward, who played with Katie and Upper Darby. And we have Melissa Reid who played at Dwight Morrow in New Jersey."

With so many young faces, Tagliafferi expects this team to improve as the year goes on.

"We have the potential every day to get better than we were the day before," she said. "I do think we have a lot of talent and we are just going to focus on getting better each day."

The Mountaineers hope some of the new faces, along with Espigh, DeRichie and Victoria and Emma Lacey will be able to give the team enough weapons outside to open things up for Stevenson and Matter inside.

"We have Kayla who is a very good three-point shooter," Matter said. "We can work the ball inside out. If they double us, she will hurt them and if she's hitting shots, that opens things up for us."

And, the shooters know they have to hit those shots this season.

"It's going to be very important for not only me, but Alyssa and Katie and Tory," she said. "We are all good shooters and we have to make those open shots."

The newcomers all know that with a new coach, they have a shot to come in and get noticed and earn playing time right away.

"It's a clean slate for everyone this year," Heyward said. "The newcomers, the returning players, everyone has a clean slate now."

And, everyone is anxious for what this season could bring.

"I'm excited, I think we have a good year ahead of us," Fitzpatrick said.

While Mansfield has struggled record-wise the past few seasons, Tagliafferi knows what the Mountaineers can do. Because she played fairly recently and coached in the conference, at West Chester last year, it might help her with this year's team.

"I have been coaching six years and I feel this program has a lot to offer," she said. "It's not that long ago that I was here and I'm familiar with the things in this league after coaching West Chester last year. I am familiar with the players we need to get and what we need to do."

COMING SOON

Katie Fitzpatrick and Shaleta Heyward were high school teammates, now they are freshmen teammates for the Mountaineers. Look for more in The Daily & Sunday Review.