"The experience gives us more confidence and with all the new players that we brought in this year, we know that as upperclassmen, we need to step up and show them that the Big Ten is a tough conference and hopefully we are making each other better," junior guard Ashley Josephson said.
As important as confidence is for a team that is looking to become competitive in the Big Ten after a tough 10-17 overall campaign last year, the Badgers' continued "Team Unity" philosophy may be more imperative to its success. Although the roster includes six freshman, the Badgers are far more comfortable with each other, and with Stone, than they where 12 months ago.
"I think our team has already jelled together real well on the court," Josephson said. "Last year we were struggling to pick up our offense and things like that, but this year we picked up on it faster."
For the returning members of the women's basketball team, the year they have under their belts with Stone is reason for optimism as they approach their Nov. 19 opener versus IUPUI at the Kohl Center. Wisconsin fans can catch their first glimpse of the team Sunday in an exhibition at the Kohl Center versus Wisconsin AAU at noon.
"It makes it easier on the court just knowing what Coach Stone expects this year and the rest of the coaching staff and knowing that I have to be a coach on the floor especially if the younger girls are going to play," senior point guard Stephanie Rich said.
"Having Coach Stone here, we know how she likes to run practices," Josephson said. "We know how intense she is and so we just have more confidence in our game, it just helps us out a lot."
Stone maintains the relatively smooth transition the Badgers experienced is a testament to the group's attitude and dedication.
"I am thankful that I inherited a team that believed in my vision and everybody is as excited as the freshmen, as I am," Stone said. "But you certainly can't forget about the returning six that have embraced my vision and where we want to go with the program, and they are ready to blend their experience with the new freshman."
The six returning upperclassmen are well aware that their experience under Stone is crucial in incorporating the promising freshman class into the UW system. In addition to Josephson and Rich, that veteran core includes forwards Ebba Gebisa, Jordan Wilson, Annie Nelson and Kjersten Bakke.
The new freshmen that compose Stone's first recruiting class include guards Akiya Alexander, Jolene Anderson, Shari' Welton and Janese Banks and forwards Danielle Ward and Lesha Jones, who will redshirt this season while she recovers from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Banks is day-to-day after hurting her knee when she was hit by a car while riding her motor scooter two weeks ago.
The Badgers were forced to learn a different system last season under Stone and were hurt in the preceding year's recruiting process because of the departure of former head coach Jane Albright. Although the Badgers struggled to a 4-12 Big Ten record, this season will provide a different opportunity, one where coaches and players alike will once again be familiar with each other. Stone said that the familiarity she has with Rich, for instance, will play a huge role this season.
"[Rich] has helped a ton, she has been my point guard and I think there is some special bond there, and I think at times she is able to anticipate what I am going to do and I like that to a certain extent," Stone said.
Stone said that with the senior leadership of Rich and Gebisa and the talent of the incoming freshman class, the Badgers have the opportunity to make great strides towards improving upon last season. There is nothing like experience, and even though it is only one year, that initial season together should go a long way toward helping the Badgers throughout the year.
"It is a new season, and it's exciting," Stone said. "The optimism is flaring. I mean people are excited to watch them run up and down the court. My energy is still the same as last year, I hope that we can continue to strive and have the results that we are looking to have this season."