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Blue-and-white sneakers pivoted right after starting left. The direction change brought her near the foul line, where her outstretched hands intercepted a pass to stymie the opposition’s scoring chance. Sam Brigham would have been able to initialize a fast break off a turnover if this had been a game instead of just a late October preseason practice. But the steal still demonstrated Brigham’s value to a Hofstra women’s basketball team that will look to blend a mixture of youth and experience as it competes for a Colonial Athletic Association title.
Brigham is entering her fourth year, having been a member of the most successful team in Hofstra history and a starter for a rebuilding team that won only five games the next season. She has experienced the entire emotional spectrum in basketball.
The Simsbury, Connecticut, native is now expected to be a leader on a Pride team that returns four of its top five scorers from a 16-win team in 2008-09. Brigham said she followed her hometown UConn growing up and watched the Huskies qualify for the NCAA Tournament almost every year. Those memories now motivate her to help Hofstra win a CAA championship for the first time in school history.
Brigham was a valuable role player during her freshman campaign, drilling 24 three-pointers for a Pride team that made it to the CAA semifinals before advancing to WNIT’s fourth round for the program’s best-ever finish. That also marked head coach Krista Kilburn-Steveskey’s first season at Hofstra. The two are now looking to make a similar run, with Steveskey imploring Brigham to become a vocal leader on and off the court.
“She does so many things so well and so textbook that I think the other players are learning by her example,” Kilburn-Steveskey said. “Sam’s not a player who can put the whole team on her back, but she is the glue of the team that will be hard to replace [next season].”
During a break between low-post drills, Brigham talked to a small group of players wearing blue practice jerseys before continuing the intersquad competition. Each tidbit is a reminder that attention to detail is what can prevent a difficult season like the one Brigham endured her sophomore year, when Hofstra struggled to a 5-25 record in 2007-08. “My freshman year, we had great leadership,” Brigham said. “My sophomore year, we had a very shallow bench, and people would be tired, and it would cause problems. Last year and this year, we became deeper at the guard position.” Brigham averaged 8.5 points and 2.4 rebounds as a junior in starting 26 of the Pride’s 29 games. She also provided an outside threat by shooting a team-high 36 percent from three- point range. Brigham will be expected to lead a backcourt that will have sophomore Candice Bellocchio returning from injury.
Nicole Capurso is also returning, and freshman Candace Bond will be expected to fortify depth in the guard rotation, giving Brigham help in replacing Niki Williams. But as the only senior guard and just one of two seniors on the roster, Brigham said her contributions have to extend beyond points and steals. Or else she will hear about it from Kilburn- Steveskey. “If I’m having a bad day, she’s going to get on me, but I can’t take that personally,” Brigham said. “I have to see that she wants me to be better because she’s seen me grow and knows what I can handle. It’s been a give-and-take relationship over the last four years.”
Fellow senior Jess Fuller and sophomore Joelle Connelly return as the starting center-forward tandem to complement the guards and keep intact a core that held opponents to just a .353 field goal percentage while shooting at a .423 clip last season. Unexpected contributions from the newcomers could determine how far Hofstra can go. For players like Bond, the adjustment to Division I can be jarring. Brigham said she struggled at times in her transition and can try to alleviate the pressure for Hofstra’s three freshmen.
“College is so much different than high school, where the little things you get away with in high school, you can’t get away with in the college game,” Brigham said. “People respect me, and if they have any questions, they’re not afraid to ask me.”