The destination for UC Davis women’s basketball in 2012-13 was set early on by head coach Jennifer Gross — finding improvement for a young roster.
With the Aggies sitting at a turning point, 8-10 overall and 3-4 in their Big West journey, there’s only one question a backseat observer could ask … Are we there yet?
As the only two seniors on this year’s squad, the leadership of Cortney French and Blair Shinoda has driven UCD. French has mapped out how to conduct oneself as an Aggie both on and off the court.
“She leads in so many different ways,” says Gross, a second-year mentor. “Not only that, she does everything that is asked of her; from going hard in every single drill to bringing a tremendous level of communication during games.
“She’s also someone that I know will be a part of my life and that of the coaching staff not only while she’s here, but afterwards. That’s just the type of person she is.”
And as a player, Gross added, French’s long-range shooting game is a strength that UCD has relied on.
French is ranked third in the conference in 3-point shooting, and has amassed 148 treys in her Aggie career. That number puts her 46 long balls behind the school’s all-time record set by Lori Hurlburt, who sank 194 shots from behind the arc in 1997-2001.
If French maintains her average of 2.4 treys a game in the remaining 11 regular-season outings, she will land 20 short of the mark — but still earn a spot in the all-time top five.
But for French, records are not a priority.
“Personally, I’m just doing whatever it takes for the team to win in that particular game,” says the 5-foot-11 guard from Stockton. “Sometimes it’s shooting threes, but other times it’s grabbing rebounds or getting a defensive stop.”
Gross attested to the versatility of the branded sharpshooter, who has put in countless hours of practice to expand her repertoire.
“What’s interesting to me is that she seems to always have thought of herself as a 3-point shooter throughout her career, but she has put so much time into her game to complete her game,” Gross said. “It paid off for her.”
French showcased this versatility by tying a career high with eight rebounds in the Aggie victory at Cal State Fullerton on Thursday.
Meanwhile, French’s co-captain Shinoda has displayed her all-around game by ranking fourth in the Big West with 43 steals (2.4 per game). With their unselfish play, the duo is hoping to create a top-down emphasis on better defense, and eagerness to follow suit is apparently in full supply:
“This group has a drive to improve, they’re constantly pushing themselves,” French said of her younger teammates.
As the UCD underclassmen develop with each passing day, so approaches graduation for the veteran leader. This reality on its own is sentimental for the Aggie devotee.
“Every day I think, ‘This is the last time I’m going to be here, on this day,’ ” French said. “Though it crosses my mind a lot, I have to push it aside and just remember to have fun and play.
“Every year, the most important goal is getting to the Big West Tournament and doing well, but this year — due to it being my last — there is a little added on my end. I’m trying to do all I can to get everyone excited about it.”
The local women have to be energized following a pair of dominating wins last weekend over Fullerton (88-44) and UC Riverside (61-49).
Long before March’s Big West get-together is the upcoming stretch of four home games, starting with UCD hosting Long Beach State on Thursday (7 p.m.) at The Pavilion.
Gross stressed the importance of the slate of matches on Aggie turf; which also will include UC Irvine on Saturday, UC Santa Barbara on Feb. 7, and Cal Poly on Feb. 9.
“We have the most important thing right now — confidence,” she said. “We’re excited to get back in front of home fans, hopefully take some wins, and put ourselves in a good spot heading into the second half of conference.”
— Reach Brett Johnson at email@example.com or 530-747-8052. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett