Armed with veteran leadership and key experience for many of its underclassmen, the UC Davis women’s basketball team opened practice this week in preparation for a challenging 2013-14 season.
The Aggies’ tough schedule features matchups against two of the nation’s premier collegiate programs — Stanford and defending NCAA champion UConn.
Third-year UCD head coach Jennifer Gross and her staff welcomed nine returners to the team’s first practice on Tuesday afternoon, along with a pair of freshmen, as the Aggies look ahead to an exhibition game against Humboldt State (Nov. 1) and the Nov. 8 season opener when USC is at The Pavilion.
“We’re really trying to focus on right now,” Gross said. “We’re not looking too far ahead. We have a long time before our first game so we’re just focused on building a championship team this year. That means we come to practice focused and ready to work.
“We’re holding ourselves accountable, and the players and coaches are seeing eye to eye on what it’s going to take to build the team we know we can build.”
UCD finished 12-18 overall last year and 7-11 in the Big West, falling in the first round of the Big West Conference tournament to Cal State Northridge.
While the early tourney exit was disappointing, experience gained by a talented freshman class provided a silver lining. Guard Molly Greubel and forwards Celia Marfone, Alyson Doherty and Heidi Johnson combined to start 53 games with Greubel (21.7), Doherty (20.8) and Marfone (20.2) each playing significant minutes.
“It’s been really fun to have experience on this team,” Gross said. “We’re still young — we only have one senior in Idit Oryon — but we have a lot more veterans this year. We’re able to move at a faster pace, we’re able to put different things in (and) we’re really challenging our players to move quickly, learn quickly and to trust the coaches, and they’re doing a great job of that.”
Oryon, who made 19 3-pointers last season and will be counted on as a team leader, and the returning sophomores will provide support for junior standout Sydnee Fipps. The All-Big West first team forward led the Aggies in scoring last year, averaging 17.1 points an outing.
Junior forward Brianna Salvatore, who missed last season with injury, will be another weapon for UCD, as will junior guard Kelsey Harris, who sat out last year after transferring from Iowa State. Sophomore Lauren Beyer, another victim of injury, will add depth to the roster along with freshman guards Taylor McGuire from Ventura and Brianne Yasukochi from Oceanside.