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UND women's basketball program knows it has hill to climb to get back to championship level

UND coach Mallory Bernhard begins first season as full-time head coach on Thursday night against Minnesota-Crookston.

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UND's Mallory Bernhard (second from left), then interim coach, talks to her players during a timeout in the second quarter of a Nov. 30, 2020, home opener against the Marquette Golden Eagles. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

The UND women's basketball team went 2-19 last season in a pandemic-shortened year amid a coaching transition. It was the fewest wins in a season in school history.

As the Fighting Hawks begin the process of trying to regain a championship-level program, first-year full-time head coach Mallory Bernhard is blunt about the starting point.

"To be completely honest, this team has a long ways to go still," said Bernhard, a former standout at UND who wore the interim head coach tag last year. "I don't think we're anywhere close to where we want to be.

"It's an incredibly fun group to watch. They are showing up every day to get better and work to get where we need to get. It's definitely a process."

The Hawks will have a new look as they bring in four true freshmen and three transfers. UND lost its top two scorers from a year ago as Julia Fleecs graduated and Megan Zander elected to transfer closer to home at NCAA Division II University of Mary.

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One of the challenges of bringing in new faces is offensive cohesion, Bernhard said.

"We play a lot of motion offense, and it requires a lot of knowing what each individual is capable of," she said. "That's one of the biggest challenges of where we are to where we want to get."

UND spent much of the offseason working on individual skills.

"I'm kicking myself on that a little bit right now feeling like we could've made more headway (on team concepts), however, we felt we really needed to hit that skill-development piece," Bernhard said. "We really tried to address each player's needs. So when we get that team continuity together, it meshes and we have better tools in the tool box."

UND's returning leading scorer is post Olivia Lane, who averaged 8.3 points per game last season after missing six games with an injury.

The Hawks' second-leading scorer is shooter Maggie Manson, who averaged 7.6 points per game.

UND also returns Juliet Gordon, Kacie Borowicz and Melissa Leet -- three players hindered by injuries a year ago.

The matchup with the Golden Eagles will be UND fans' first chance to see transfers Jolene Daninger of DePaul, Sammiyah Hoskin of Detroit Mercy and Deja Davis of Wabash Valley Community College.

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"There are a lot of new faces, so we're trying to create that team chemistry," senior guard Claire Orth said. "I think that's something that'll come with time, getting to know each other and how we play."

Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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