The USF women’s basketball team has a secret weapon. It’s one that you won’t find on the list of players or in the stat sheet though.
Senior guard Mel Khlok had trouble even putting it into words in the wake of the team’s 72-40 victory in their exhibition game against Missouri Southern State on Nov. 2.
“After the game on Friday, it was a feeling I’ve never had before here at USF,” she said. “The team is just like, we’ve got each other’s back. You get beat, I’ve got you, you went to go help, I’ve got you. The feeling is so unexplainable, just because you have to be a part of it to feel it.”
That camaraderie is what sets this team apart from the previous two USF squads led by coach Jennifer Azzi as she begins her third year with the Dons.
Azzi gave some of the credit to new defensive coordinator Shanele Stires, who begins her second stint as an assistant coach at USF. She was previously on the staff from 2006 to ’08.
“I do think that Shanele has helped us a lot,” Azzi said. “Just in that she brings such a passion and intensity, especially defensively. That’s something that I think has been contagious for our players. She’ll go demonstrate something and just knock someone over.”
The team has a tough road ahead, however, with only three seniors and one junior on the roster. The young players have bought into what Azzi is trying to build, however, as evidenced by their early arrivals to the Hilltop early to prepare for the season during the summer.
“To know that they were able to come and put aside what they wanted to do was amazing,” Khlok said. “And it’s showing. All the hard work is paying off.”
On-court leadership will come from sophomore point guard Aundrea Gordon, who is somewhat miscast as a point instead of shooting guard, though, coming back to the team mentality, Azzi said she has no worries about Gordon’s ability to fill the role the team needs her to fill.
“It’s definitely a position that we’ve kind of struggled with, but she’s doing a great job,” Azzi said. “Sometimes I think by default, if you know you’re it, and you’ve got to get it done, she’s got that kind of personality and that drive that she’s going to find a way to make it happen.”