On Oct. 27, the women’s basketball team kicked off the season at the Cougar Classic hosted by the University of Saint Francis. They played Concordia and Cornerstone, with both games ending in losses. 

The next weekend, the Leafs’ first home game against Judson University resulted in a commanding win. Led by Syanne Mohamed’s 19-point and 12-rebound double-double, the Leafs bested the Eagles 82-56.

They followed up with a 63-60 thriller win against Trinity Christian College on Monday. Zion Neat, a senior guard, hit a crucial three-pointer late in the game to bring the Maple Leafs within one point. Soon after, she drew a foul on a scored layup and made the free throw to complete the “and-one” and give Goshen the lead. Kiana Oelling sealed the win with two free throws, pushing the Leafs to a 2-2 record.

Coach Stephanie Miller talked about the team’s growth in comparison to last years growing pains: “The biggest thing is just having the experience and trusting in the process that we have put together,” she said. “They started [and] you could see the calm and the trust that they had in one another as opposed to the frantic nature from the years before that. We’ll still go back and forth. … We’ll still have moments.”

After a 7-21 record last year, the team is focused on bouncing back — starting with emphasizing their friendships.

Neat talked about the “little things: we eat lunch together every day … and that didn’t used to happen a lot. It’s not that we didn’t want to — it just wasn’t something that happened.” Sharing these moments together have led to “more natural friendships,” she said.

Seventeen players make up the roster, 11 of whom are juniors. With an experienced team and closer bonds, they strive to outperform their preseason conference ranking of 10th place.

“We just look light-years better than we were last year,” Neat said. “We just look a lot more mature, a lot more confident. It looks like we know how to handle things.”

A shift in culture behind the scenes has made the greatest impact, according to Mohamed. 

“We’re a growing team and a lot of people are trying to find their position in the sport,” she said. “And so this year I think that everybody knows where they are, and the culture has helped support each other, and people are stepping up and we can see improvement.” 

“It’s like a big family,” she added. “[We’re] all sisters … we love each other.”

This weekend, the Maple Leafs look to continue their win streak against IU East and IU Southeast at the Huntington Classic. Their first conference game is against Bethel on Nov. 18.