Oct. 2, 2013
DAVIS, Calif. - Armed with key experience for much of its underclassmen, and leadership from its veterans, the UC Davis women's basketball opens practice this week in preparation for a challenging 2013-14 season that will feature matchups against two of the premier collegiate programs, including defending NCAA champion UConn.
Third-year head coach Jennifer Gross and her staff welcomed nine returners to the team's first practice on Tuesday afternoon, along with a pair of freshman. UC Davis will practice most days with its season-opener at The Pavilion against USC set for Nov. 8. The Aggies will host Humboldt State in an exhibition game on Nov. 1.
"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."
UC Davis finished 12-18 overall last year and 7-11 in the Big West, falling in the first round of the conference tournament to Cal State Northridge. While the finish was unfamiliar territory to a program that had been to the Big West Championship half of its first six years in the league - including a memorable title in 2010 - the experience gained by a talented freshman class provided a silver lining.
Guard Molly Greubel (6.3 ppg., 2.1 rpg) and forwards Celia Marfone (5.3 ppg., 4.0 rpg), Alyson Doherty (5.3 ppg., 4.9 rpg.) and Heidi Johnson (1.8, 1.7) each saw plenty of action in their first year, helping give Gross a foundation on which to help start this season.
"It's been really fun to have experience on this team," she 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."
The freshman quartet combined to start 53 games with Greubel (21.7), Doherty (20.8) and Marfone (20.2) each playing significant minutes.
That group will mix with two other veterans who played key roles last season led by junior forward Sydnee Fipps who led the team in scoring (17.1 ppg) on her way to All-Big West first-team honors. Oryon, who had 19 three-pointers, is another leader being counted on by Gross.
Junior forward Brianna Salvatore, who missed last season with injury, will be another weapon for the Aggies as well 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 as will freshman guards Taylor McGuire from Ventura and Brianne Yasukochi from Oceanside.
"Early on, our emphasis is very much going to be on defense," said Gross. "The team understands that if we want to win a championship, we're going to have to be very committed to the defensive side."
UC Davis will once again face a challenging schedule that is highlighted by road matchups against two of the collegiate basketball's most legendary women's programs - Stanford and Connecticut. The Aggies will renew their regional rivalry with the Cardinal at Maples Pavilion on Nov. 17 before traveling to face UConn in Hartford, Conn., on Dec. 5. The Huskies, winners of eight NCAA Championships since 1995, will visit The Pavilion next season.
UC Davis will host 13 games in preparation for the Big West Tournament, set for Mar. 11-15 in Long Beach and Anaheim.