Times have been tough recently for the USF women’s basketball team, but an infusion to young talent and a change in mindset has coach Jennifer Azzi confident this season will be different.
“[There is] more of a clear focus,” Azzi said. “The players that are here want to be here and they have more of our mindset.”
The Dons finished eighth in the West Coast Conference last season and were selected to finish ninth in this season’s preseason poll.
“The best thing we can do is not pay attention to any of that,” she said. “The program was pretty down and the thing I’m the most proud of is our returning players saying we want to do something there.”
Azzi, who is in her second year as coach, brought in her first recruiting class, which was highlighted by Colorado Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year Jamie Katuna.
“Our freshmen have overall raised our level,” Azzi said. “They’re starting to understand the offense. They’re starting to understand working together, so it’s really exciting to have them.”
Katuna, along with fellow freshmen Taj Winston, Aundrea Gordon and Alicia Scafidi, attended summer school at USF and practiced with their new teammates.
“They worked out and I think knew what to expect based on our workouts,” Azzi said. “They’re freshmen in every sense of the word, except I think their bodies were a little more prepared by being here in the summer.”
Katuna averaged 23.7 points, 4.4 rebounds and four assists in her final season at Longmont High School (Colo.), and that scoring is something San Francisco needs.
The Dons struggled offensively last season, with no players averaging double-figures and only tallying 60 points per game as a team.
“We have our core group, but I think their roles will continue to develop, especially with the freshmen,” Azzi said.
Two returning players Azzi will be relying heavily on are seniors Rheina Ale and Vania Singleterry. The combo combined for 14 points and seven rebounds last season.
“They’ve both come back wanting to make a change,” Azzi said. “They’ve lost here for three years and are tired of it. They’ve worked very hard.”
The Dons’ nonconference schedule offers some tough games, including matchups against Florida and at Colorado.
“We have some tough games,” Azzi said. “We definitely have a challenging preseason, and for us, playing against teams like that is just to learn from it.”
The Dons already have their starting lineup determined and it includes Ale, Katy Keating, Mel Khlok, Whitney Daniels and Singleterry.
COACH: Jennifer Azzi, second year
LAST YEAR: 4-25 overall, 1-13 in West Coast Conference play
KEY PLAYERS: Guard Rheina Ale (6.8 points per game), Guard Vania Singleterry (7.3 ppg)
OPENER: Friday, vs. Cal State Northridge, 3 p.m.
WCC OPENER: Dec. 29, vs. Pepperdine, 7 p.m.