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Promising start (7-3) for Molloy

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By winning six of its first nine, with most of the victories coming against returning NCAA tournament participants, Molloy College brought plenty of confidence into the East Coast Conference women’s basketball opener and it showed.

The visiting Lions enjoyed a 14-point spurt in the first half and used a 13-point second-half run to pull away from the District of Columbia, 67-51. Junior Gabriella Aspuru (19), grad student Kadijah Dickson (16) and grad student Robyn Francis (13) all scored in double figures, while junior point guard Giolibeth Perez added nine points, eight assists and six steals.

“Our non-conference schedule was rated the toughest in D-II,” head coach Joe Pellicane said. “It got us battle-tested and we won some games that built confidence. Our conference is very competitive and if you’re not prepared, you’re not going to come out ahead on the scoreboard.”

Molloy had a tough time last season, finishing 10-18 overall and 5-13 against ECC rivals, but has poured the foundation for considerable improvement. The Lions have already avenged 2018-19 defeats at the hands of Stonehill, Assumption and Bentley. In the win over Stonehill, the Lions tied a program single-game record with 20 steals. Molloy knocked off Bentley by a dozen behind Dickson’s 29 after losing by 33 to the Falcons last winter.

“There’s a long three months to go,” Pellicane said. “Consistency is an ongoing process. We try to pride ourselves on defense. Right now, we’re eighth in the nation in points allowed per game.”

The additions of Dickson and Francis are proving priceless so far. Dickson, who played high school ball at Mary Louis Academy in Queens, averaged 16 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in her third and final season at Clarion University. In her first nine games at Molloy, she’s scoring 17.5 ppg and pulling down 8.8 rpg.

“She’s certainly not a one-year wonder,” Pellicane said of Dickson, a 5-foot-8 guard. “She’s been a high-percentage shooter and a strong rebounder her whole career, and she’s a winner.”

Francis is a 5-7 guard who played 89 games at LIU-Post and averaged 5.4 points and 3.7 rebounds. Her numbers so far with the Lions are similar and she’s also a tough defender. “We’re thrilled to have her,” Pellicane said.

Perez runs the offense from the point after transferring from Stony Brook. She’s averaging nearly 10 points per game and leads the Lions in assists and steals. “Gio is a team-first player with high energy,” Pellicane said. “She sees the floor well and gets her teammates involved.” Perez is backed up by sophomore Katie Marquardt.

Aspuru started all 28 games for the Lions last season and is showing improvements in all aspects of her game. The 6-foot guard ranks second on the team in scoring at 10.5 ppg and has blocked 13 shots. “She’s an excellent two-way player,” Pellicane said.

The coach believes senior Kathryn Gibson is one of the best backcourt defenders in the ECC. Gibson is also no stranger to knocking down an occasional shot from behind the arc to boost the offense.

Pellicane said statistics don’t show how important senior Jenna Silletti and junior Marthe Guirand are to the program. “Jenna is a very skilled shooter and Marthe is a great leader who defends and rebounds. Guirand missed the conference opener and has been banged up for a while, the coach said, but is hoping to return to action soon.

Selected sixth in the ECC preseason poll out of nine teams, the Lions will try to exceed their expectations on paper. New York Tech was picked first earning 76 points and five first-place votes. St. Thomas Aquinas received 75 points and the other four first-place votes. Daemen (62) and Roberts Wesleyan (52) were third and fourth, respectively. Bridgeport (41), Molloy (37), Mercy (21), Queens (21), and UDC (20) rounded out the predicted order of finish.