Women’s basketball returns for new success

By Davis Jones

USD women’s basketball coach Cindy Fisher is set to begin her ninth year at the peak of her program’s success. A record of 22-10 last season and a win in the first round of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament marked the only time in school history that the team has made back-to-back postseason appearances, as the 2011-2012 team won its way through to the WNIT Final Four. With four starters returning and a balanced mix of upper and lowerclassmen, the team features a deep, talented roster in what Fisher believes will be an exciting 2013-2014 campaign.

“It’s a really fun group of girls,” Fisher said. “I think what I’m most excited for is that we have a lot of different players who can do a lot of different things. They are very versatile. Whoever we have out there can all play and step up and do good things. We have 12 players this year and a walk-on, and I wouldn’t hesitate to put any one of them on the floor at any given time. I feel as strong as I’ve ever felt about the depth of this team and their character and their excitement to play.”

Fisher describes her four seniors as both very steady performers and tremendous leaders. Guard Amy Kame earned first-team All-WCC honors last year after she averaged 16.1 points and 2.4 steals per game. She improved her single game career-highs in five different statistical categories last year, including when she poured in 30 points against the University of Iowa Hawkeyes in the Championship of the Maggie Dixon Surf N Slam Classic on Dec. 30. Kame, along with forwards Felicia Wijenberg and Kameron Knutson and guard Alysse Barlow, compose a senior class that Fisher calls one of the best in program history.

“One thing I tell every team is that you’ll go as far as your seniors take you. We will go as far as they go. Our seniors have played a lot of minutes for us, and they’re excited to get things started. I think as long as they stay healthy and stay excited, we’ll have a really good year,” Fisher said.

Rounding up last year’s all-conference selections for USD were freshman forward Maya Hood and junior guard Katelyn McDaniel, whom Fisher looks toward to build from her stellar sophomore season. She tallied the third-highest scoring average for her team at 10.2 ppg as well as led the team with a .720 free-throw shooting percentage. With four juniors, two sophomores and four freshmen on her roster, the team’s balance among classes highlights a consistency that can take them deep into another postseason.

“I think it’s super important to keep your classes balanced with each other. I think there’s always an order to be met. There’s a pecking order, there’s an expectation order, there’s a leadership order, and I think it all helps to develop the young players and take a lot of pressure off them,” Fisher said. “By the time Amy’s coming up to you and says, ‘Hey, I’ve been there before. Don’t get rattled. You’re going to do fine,’ you can always count on that next class to move up the ladder and step up.”

The roster’s consistency will undergo a test this year after the announcement was made that Maya Hood will sit out the 2013-2014 season. The preseason first-team All-WCC player and last year’s WCC Newcomer of the Year is expecting a baby in early November. She will return for the 2014-2015 season with three years of eligibility left.

“That’s huge. Making up for Maya not being there is going to take awhile,” Fisher said. “Her twin sister Malina is an amazing player, but she’s always kind of been in the backseat watching Maya.

But now she’s in the forefront, and now Malina needs to step up and play really well. It’s a big loss, but it’s such a happy event for Maya and we’re all so supportive for her and excited for her.

And the thing about Maya is that she’s such a positive person and a positive leader. So having someone like that who’s now out of your practices is something you really notice, now that that energy isn’t there. It’s been fun to watch other people know that and step in and try to change that themselves.”

USD begins its season on Nov. 9 with a road contest against the Northern Colorado Bears, a team that also made the WNIT last season and whom Fisher describes as ‘very talented.’ Other notable preseason games include a home game four days later against the Pac-12 Arizona State Sun Devils and a Nov. 18 road game against the San Diego State Aztecs, who pulled a close four-point victory last December. The Toreros host the University of Idaho Vandals on Nov. 26; the team starts its 2013-2014 season after playing the national-powerhouse University of Connecticut Huskies last March in the Women’s NCAA tournament.

Fisher says that the schedule has already seen some adjustments. A preseason scrimmage against the United States Air Force Academy Falcons was canceled after the recent government shutdown. USD had to cancel its annual Maggie Dixon Surf ‘N Slam Classic because of the early start in the WCC with the addition of the league’s newest team, the University of the Pacific Tigers. Despite the unexpected changes, Fisher says that she and her coaching staff had a purposeful intent in creating a difficult preseason schedule.

“We tried to build it so that it would prepare us for conference. We felt like we needed to play some tough opponents on the road to get us ready for the Gonzagas and the BYUs and the Saint Mary’s, so we wanted to do that early in the nonconference to help get our players more adjusted to the road,” she said.

When asked about the importance of constructing such a schedule, Fisher was quick to point out its intangible value from which her players will profit during the regular season.
I think that, when people talk to you as a head coach and ask you what’s the most important thing, everyone wants to say ‘recruiting, recruiting,’ which is still very important,” Fisher said. “But your schedule is also extremely important, the way you build your schedule and the way it unfolds. You want to make sure your kids don’t lose too much confidence early, but are challenged early enough to make sure they get those good wins to gain that confidence.”

Fisher knows, however, that the team’s confidence will only carry as far as its character takes them.

“If you have to coach effort every day, and you have to teach that mentality, it’s rough,” Fisher said. “And we don’t have to do that for this group. The come in ready to play. Some days are better than others. But they know. They understand that there’s a level they need to practice at. And being picked second in conference [for the preseason] showed a lot of respect, and I think they acknowledge that and know that we’re no longer the hunter, but the hunted. We realize that we need to step up and perform and not rest on what we’ve done in the past. This is a new group and a new beginning and we want to get better. We want to win. We’re trying to take the next step.”