By GREG LAUDANI, Staff Writer
When a team loses its top two scorers, it could very well crumble.
It only took one day for a massive challenge to face UNH this season, as the Wildcats lost standout Corinne Coia for the season after suffering an ACL injury on the first day of practice.
On top of Coia’s injury, UNH had already lost Kelsey Hogan, last season’s leading scorer, to graduation. Someone needed to step up to help fill those shoes left behind.
Elizabeth Belanger has turned out to be that someone. The junior has delivered the scoring and toughness the Wildcats were in desperate need of after facing early adversity.
In her third season with the Wildcats, Belanger has emerged as the team’s most dangerous scoring threat with a team-high 15.0 points per game.
“Elizabeth has been our go-to player this year and our most consistent all-around player,” said UNH head coach Maureen Magarity. “She had to pick up her scoring this year significantly when we lost our top two scorers from last year.”
The junior has shown steady improvement over each of her three years at UNH. She averaged 5.9 points during her freshman season and 10.3 last year. While bulking up her numbers again this season, the star guard credits her growing basketball IQ.
“Every year I have a more aggressive mindset in terms of scoring if that’s what our team needs me to do,” Belanger said. “I’ve learned to take more high-quality shots and rebounding always gives you some easy put-backs as well.”
Magarity emphasized that the statistical boost is nothing new, and Belanger’s improvement has come from her work ethic away from the court.
“Elizabeth takes her game to the next level every year,” Magarity said. “She is so focused in the off-season to push herself in all areas of her game.”
“Her ball handling, mid-range game and overall fitness level are the things that stick out to me the most that she has improved on over her three years.”
Belanger’s ball handling and scoring have carried the Wildcats this season. But it is the intangibles Belanger brings that are perhaps most critical in her development into UNH’s leader.
“She has an inner drive that can’t be taught,” Magarity said. “She brings a toughness and blue-collar attitude to the team. She wants to be the best player she can be to help her team win.”
Her will has been tested as of late with UNH struggling to get a win.
In UNH’s loss to UVM on Feb.11, Belanger’s will to win stood out. She scored a game-high 25 points and nearly carried the Wildcats to victory. The loss extended UNH’s losing streak to six games.
Despite the team’s struggles in the second half of the season, Belanger said she has never allowed herself to get discouraged.
“In order for me to stay focused during tough times, I need to remind myself why I love the game and just go out there and enjoy playing with your teammates.”
“Basketball is a game of ups and downs, and that goes for the season as well,” Belanger said. “We knew we weren’t going to be perfect, but we just keep working harder every day.”
Belanger’s said she wants do everything in her power to make her teammates and coaches proud.
“Training for my teammates and coaches is what keeps me motivated,” Belanger said. “My biggest fear is letting them down so I will always work my hardest for them. I will do anything to be the best and I want what’s best for our team. Playing for UNH is such a blessing and something that I never want to take for granted.”