With all the success they had last season, the Women’s Basketball team now comes into this season with a target on their back. In the USA Today Preseason Coaches’ Poll, UT was ranked fourteenth, as well as being favored to win the Sunshine State Conference.
For the first time in program history, the Lady Spartans advanced to the third round of the Division Two NCAA tournament, while also ending the season ranked fifteenth in the nation.
The team, led by head coach Tom Jessee, is looking to build on the success his team had last season.
“We want to build on the fact that we were in the tournament. There is enough experience back, three starters as a matter of fact along with a talent group of players that came off the bench. So we’re gonna feed off of that and build around that with the mindset that we want to get back to that very thing and this time have experience on our side when we do get there,” said Jessee.
Senior forward Aisha Rodney was on the team last year and knows the pressure that has been put on the team. “We have a target on our back from the get-go. The people that left the school last year and all the returners have set a standard and we need to exceed that standard for this year. It puts good pressure on our team to carry on the legacy that we have always had at Tampa,” said Rodney.
There is one difference between last season and this season: the team is missing two of their top five scorers in guards Illyssa Vivo and Shamika Williams. Jessee talked about who can step up in the absences of Vivo and Williams. “We will transfer over to two of the returning kids, who would probably pick up the bulk of the slack, two very talented players in Juliana Cavallaro and Ellen Nurmi,” Jessee said about who will step up in the graduations of the two seniors.
One of the players Jessee mentioned, junior Ellen Nurmi, spoke about how she will step up as a leader this season. “The two seniors of the starting five that graduated where very much leaders on and off the floor, so therefore now us [Nurmi and Rodney] as the new captains on the team will also try to bring leadership to the floor and take more responsibility, so when its crunch time they won’t look for anyone else. I will definitely try to lead by example and hit some important shots,” said Nurmi.
The Lady Spartans kick off their season on Friday against Flagler College at home, while they are competing in the Spartan Challenge Tournament. There are a lot of things that this team needs to fix before their opener. Jessee is taking this game as an opportunity for this team to build their on-court chemistry. “In that game we will get a good chance to really see how the team plays under a real game situation because that will be their first official game test. We will see how our new players blend with our returning players. We will see how far along is our offense and defense scheme and system at that point because basketball is a very unique thing. It’s such a timing a timing sport and a muscle memory reflex, so it takes a while for that to get to peaking. We want to get off to a good start and send a message right away that Tampa is still here and that we weren’t one and done last year. This group is this year’s team and they will start to establish their own identity,” Jessee said.
The team is looking forward to play in Martinez Gym on Friday afternoon in front of their home fans. “We love playing at home,” said Jessee. “We love to have the student body here. We love to have the fan base here. These kids deserve that. They work extremely hard and it’s so rewarding for them to come out and see people appreciate what they are doing and their own students across campus to kind of pat them on the back that day because these girls put a lot of work in. I would love to get more and more people involved. ”
The women’s basketball team will open the season against Flagler College on Friday, November 14 at 2 p.m. in the Bob Martinez Athletic Center.
Dominick Falco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org