2001-2002 Season Preview
Last year, South Carolina Head Coach Susan Walvius began to see dividends on the hard work and time she and her coaching staff had invested into the Lady Gamecock basketball program since arriving on campus four years ago. Starting the 2000-2001 season with seven new faces and then losing three veteran players in the preseason was not exactly the scenario that the coaches had envisioned last summer. Without a senior on the roster, the Lady Gamecocks turned to their five juniors, and the players delivered one of the most exciting seasons at South Carolina in many years.
Weathering a tough stretch at the beginning of the season, the South Carolina team developed chemistry in early December and proceeded to set a school-record in SEC victories and tie for sixth place in the conference, the highest finish ever in school history. Although they enjoyed winning six conference games, the USC team and coaching staff were not satisfied with the team's play in 2000-2001. The players knew that they had let several close games (and their chances for postseason play) slip away and they are determined not to let that happen again. After a disappointing loss to Mississippi in the SEC Tournament last March, the Lady Gamecocks began to plan for the 2001-2002 season, a season in which the team would be led by five seniors and five juniors. Combine the team's success last season with the experience of the 10 returning upperclassmen, and it's easy to see why the USC players and coaching staff are excited about the 2001-2002 season.
A quick glance at the roster and one fact leaps off the page about the 2001-2002 South Carolina Lady Gamecock women's basketball team. It's an experienced group of players that return to the court this season. Of the 14 players on the roster, five members of the team are seniors and five players are juniors. That's approximately 700 games of experience taking the court for South Carolina this season. That's 375 games of experience against Southeastern Conference opponents that will help the Lady Gamecocks continue to climb in the most competitive women's basketball conference.
"Certainly we were excited about winning six SEC games last season," said Head Coach Walvius, "but we weren't satisfied. "We knew that our slow start at the beginning of the season probably cost us a chance at postseason play. It took awhile for our team to develop chemistry. Besides the fact that we had seven newcomers, we also lost three of our team leaders (Jocelyn Penn, Crishna Hill and Kelly Morrone) just as our October practices began. Our players didn't make excuses early in the season. In their mind, this was an opportunity to prove to themselves and other SEC teams that the South Carolina Lady Gamecocks weren't just a team of three players. Without Jocelyn, Crishna and Kelly available, our young players gained valuable playing time and that's one reason why we will be a much better team this year."
To help the players bond even more, the Lady Gamecocks traveled to Europe in August and competed against some of the best teams in Hungary, Slovakia and Austria. Playing against much older players with Olympic experience forced the team to work hard and fight as a team.
Just as valuable as the on-court experience was the time the team spent off the court getting to know each other. "I think that our players will tell you that the time we spent together this summer was invaluable," said Coach Walvius. "I saw relationships develop that had not formed on campus. We are so fortunate to play for an institution that supports these types of opportunities for its teams. It was a great cultural experience for our players and a time for our team to develop chemistry before the beginning of the season."
Junior Jocelyn Penn was a player that the Lady Gamecocks could ill afford to do without last year, and the team is ecstatic that she is back after redshirting last season to have a baby. The younger sister of former Gamecock great Annie Lester, Penn led the SEC and USC in steals during her first two seasons and is also known for her fiery leadership on the court and rebounding abilities. With a career average of 12 points, six rebounds and almost three steals per contest, Penn's presence in the lineup will make USC even more tenacious on defense and a dominant rebounding team.
Junior Crishna Hill spent a frustrating season on the bench last year after injuring her knee in a preseason pickup game. Undergoing surgery in August to repair the ACL tear, Hill was limited to action in only four games last year before seeking more surgery to correct the recurring pain. One of the team's defensive spark plugs, the Lady Gamecocks welcome her quickness and athleticism back on the court this year.
Guard Kelly Morrone learned the hard way that back injuries aren't just for people over 40 and weekend athletes. After a sensational freshman season in which she established herself as one of the SEC's most accurate three-point shooters, Morrone began experiencing back pain during the summer. The New York-native tried all types of nonsurgical methods to remedy her back injury. When the new school year began and she still had found no relief from the pain, Morrone decided to undergo surgery to fix her herniated disc and missed the entire 2000-2001 season.
"Jocelyn Penn, Crishna Hill and Kelly Morrone are three of our most vocal leaders on the court who also contribute a combined 20+ points per contest," said Walvius. "These three athletes are integral members of our team and losing them had a tremendous impact on our team, especially from a leadership standpoint.
"Jocelyn watched a few of our early games from the sidelines and I think that it really frustrated her that she couldn't be out there. I really believe that the year away from basketball was very good for Jocelyn as she's matured and is very focused on getting her college degree and helping the team win.
"Crishna Hill does a great job with her enthusiasm on defense and with her ball pressure. She's very defensive minded in her approach to the game and that's rare for a young player. Crishna is one of our most vocal players and a natural leader. With her high defensive energy, she makes our team better.
"Kelly has taken a very vocal role at point guard since her return to the court. We need someone with her leadership ability and experience at the point if we are going to be a really good team. She's completely recovered from her back injury and is moving well. I watched her during our practices in August and during the European Tour and I was pleased with her leadership and play at point guard."
In addition to the three redshirt players who return this year, Coach Walvius also has a class of five seniors to provide leadership to the younger Lady Gamecocks. After a senior-less season in 2000-2001, South Carolina will look to fourth-year players Shaunzinski Gortman, Shannon Segres, Teresa Geter, Tatyana Troina and Ines Ajanovic to lead the team.
Shaunzinski Gortman and Shannon Segres are two of the four members of Coach Walvius' first freshmen class from 1998 that was ranked as the 10th best in the nation. While the other two players in the class, Crishna Hill and Jocelyn Penn, are now juniors after taking medical redshirt years last season, Gortman and Segres are two senior players that South Carolina will count on this year.
After tearing her ACL in the first half of the contest at Florida in her sophomore year, Shaunzinski Gortman's first thoughts while receiving medical attention revolved around whether she could play again--in the second half of the game, that is. Gortman wasn't able to come back during the 1999-2000 season but her strong return last year was one of the keys to South Carolina's success. Building her confidence back game-by-game, Gortman finished the 2000-2001 season as the team's second-leading scorer (11.0 ppg), second in assists (3.0 apg) and third in rebounding (5.1 rpg). Gortman's quickness takes the team to a different level when the team runs.
Chosen by her teammates as a co-captain during the past two seasons, Shannon Segres is a vocal leader who has improved her basketball skills during her three years at South Carolina. Nicknamed "Tonka" for her aggressive play in the paint, Segres has refined her outside shooting touch from behind the three-point arc and is one of the team's most accurate free throw shooters. Last year, Segres' three second half three-pointers rallied the Lady Gamecocks against North Carolina and almost led to the upset over the Tar Heels.
In her first season at South Carolina, Teresa Geter led the team in scoring (11.6 ppg), rebounding (6.5 rpg), blocked shots (58) and steals (54). The Columbia, South Carolina native also was named as a SEC Player of the Week and broke the USC record for blocks in a season. Not too bad after sitting out the previous year, but Geter wasn't satisfied with her performance.
When asked about her first year at South Carolina, Geter will tell you that she has to get off to a quicker start this season than she did last year. To achieve that goal, she spent time over the summer improving aspects of her game, with an emphasis on working to get the ball. After being invited to the United States World University Games basketball team tryouts in June, Geter has worked to making herself more of a high-profile player for South Carolina.
Ines Ajanovic is a player that the USC coaches immediately mention when asked about the nicest surprises from last year. Finally healthy after fighting shin splints, hospitalized with meningitis and slowed by breaking her nose five times, Ajanovic came back to school last August in the best shape of her life and the hard work paid off for her. Ajanovic's contributions against SEC teams last spring resulted in more playing time and a starting nod against Mississippi in the opening game of the SEC Tournament.
Sometimes newcomers, especially transfer players, take a "wait-and-see" attitude about speaking up on new teams. Fortunately for South Carolina, forward Tatyana Troina was not shy and jumped quickly into the deep end of the pool by providing leadership by example. Her shooting abilities from the outside gave the Lady Gamecocks a new threat and opened up the lane for post players. Averaging over 10 points a game, Troina connected on almost 40% of her shots from the field and over 31% of her three-point opportunities. After transferring from Independence Junior College, Troina is now confident and comfortable in the South Carolina system which could mean trouble for USC opponents in 2001-2002.
"Shaunzinski Gortman was a talented player when she enrolled at South Carolina four years ago and she has worked hard to further improve every facet of her game, especially on defense," said Coach Walvius. "She's very fast with the basketball and I believe that she's one of the best players in the SEC when she has the ball in the open court.
"I've been impressed with Shannon Segres' abilities since her freshman days. She's a natural leader who takes on the role as "den mother" with our team. Even though she is smaller than many post players, Shannon likes to bang in the paint and has added range to her jump shot to make her a well-rounded player.
"The addition of Teresa Geter to our team has been great. She's a fun player to watch and when she is healthy, she's very good. I was very happy when Geter set a new school record for blocked shots and made the All-SEC Second Team last season. Her experience in big games is a big plus for our team. She wants to continue playing basketball in the WNBA next year and I predict that we'll see even bigger things from Teresa during her senior year.
"Ines is a player who has worked very hard to get where she is today. She finished last season strong and will have a chance to win a starting job this fall. She's got great size, can shoot the three and rebounds well.
"I thought Tatyana Troina made a huge impact on our team last season. She is a true outside shooting threat who made our opponents worry about her whereabouts on the court. Now that she's completely confident in her abilities, I forsee Tatyana becoming a bigger part of our scoring this season.
"I think that our five seniors have seen the team's progress since their first days on campus and they won't be satisfied with anything less than a trip to the NCAA Tournament this year," predicts Walvius. "These are the same five juniors who stepped up last season to lead the team and we expect more from them this year."
The South Carolina junior class will also be counted on this season to provide vocal leadership to the younger players. Along with Jocelyn Penn and Crishna Hill, the Lady Gamecock junior class features 6-4 post player Petra Ujhelyi, guard Linda Hoglund and power forward Melanie Murry.
The most dominating post player in recent years for South Carolina, Petra Ujhelyi returned to the USC campus this fall after spending the summer competing with her Hungarian Senior Women's National Team in the European Championships. After leading the Lady Gamecocks in rebounding as a freshman, Ujhelyi finished just a fraction behind Teresa Geter's team-high pace last season with 6.3 rebounds per contest. The 6-4 junior also averaged over eight points per contest.
Another Lady Gamecock who is happy and healthy this season is 6-1 guard Linda Hoglund. After battling numerous injuries in her first two years, Hoglund's shooting ability and experience will be counted on in the South Carolina backcourt this season. At the year-end team banquet last May, the coaches selected the Stockholm, Sweden native as the most unselfish Lady Gamecock who consistently supported her teammates on and off the court. Another player who gained valuable experience playing basketball all summer, Hoglund competed with her Swedish National Team in the World University Games in Beijing, China.
In her senior year at Columbia High School, Melanie Murry was one of the most recruited players in the south. To ease her transition into college, Murry attended Independence Community College for one year before transferring to South Carolina. Two unfortunate ACL injuries slowed her progress but the junior forward is ready to make a statement to her hometown friends and fans. Rehabilitating her knee most of last season, Murry was limited to action in only one contest but impressed the South Carolina coaching staff with her play in Europe over the summer.
"Petra spent the summer playing with her Hungarian National Team in the World Championships," said Coach Walvius. "Playing against more experienced players this summer will make her an even better player for us competing in the SEC.
"Linda is a great shooter, a smart player and an extremely hard worker whose has been plagued with injuries since coming to South Carolina. I expect that her experience starting for her Swedish National Team in the World University Games in China this summer will be invaluable.
"I really like what I saw from Melanie Murry this summer in Europe. She is a true physical player who fights for rebounds. She is 100% healthy and could see some playing time for us this year."
Sophomores Cristina Ciocan and Kelly Morrone will battle for the point guard position this season. In her freshman year, Ciocan saw more playing time than she had expected after the loss of Morrone in the preseason. The 5-11 guard from Bucharest, Romania, was one of the few freshmen in the SEC to start at point guard but the pressure never seemed to bother her. Leading the team with 81 assists, Ciocan also began to find her shooting eye towards the end of the season as she led the team with 13 points in the SEC Tournament game against Mississippi.
"I liked Cristina Ciocan's progress last season," Head Coach Walvius stated. "She sees the floor well and pushes the ball upcourt. She matured over the summer and I expect that she will be an even better player in her sophomore season."
Joining the South Carolina team this fall are freshmen Vania Redd and Tonisha Reese. A 5-5 guard from West Columbia, South Carolina, Vania Redd graduated from Airport High School as one of the most talented players in the state. One of six South Carolina natives on the 2001-2002 roster, Redd was a four-year member of the Fighting Eagles' basketball team and averaged 19 points, five rebounds, four assists and five steals per contest during her career. Along with her vertical jumping ability, USC coaches have remarked at her physical resemblance to former USC great Annie Lester. Both players utilize their strength to attack the basket but also possess a keen shooter's eye.
Another South Carolina native, guard Tonisha Reese was one of the most highly-recruited basketball players in the state of South Carolina. Last year's 4A South Carolina Player of the Year at Lower Richland High School, Reese scored over 1,200 points during her career and led the Lady Diamonds to the state playoffs each season. The 5-4 dynamo will use her quickness and three-point shooting ability to earn playing time during her first year.
"Our two freshmen are great additions to the team," said Coach Walvius. "They are talented players who are anxious to contribute. Vania is very strong and does a great job of attacking the basket. She shoots at the top of her jump shot and we're confident that she will be a great player. Tonisha is a great three-point shooter who can also attack the basket using her quickness. She has a great attitude and is going to help us. Obviously how much they play in their first year is dependent on how hard they work in practice. From what I've seen so far, both players are hard workers. Both voluntarily attended every one of our August Europe practices even though neither one could actually get on the court to play or travel with us overseas. They both just wanted to start learning our systems as soon as possible."
As always, Head Coach Walvius put together a demanding schedule for the team in the 2001-2002 season as the the Lady Gamecocks will face 12 schools who participated in postseason play in 2000-2001. Before SEC play begins in January, South Carolina will make a Thanksgiving weekend road trip to play in the Duke Women's Basketball Tournament where they will face Missouri and possibly Duke. After the Duke tournament, the team will travel to Clemson to face its instate rival in a Wednesday night showdown. In December, USC will look to turn the tables on ACC power North Carolina in an encore of last year's ACC-SEC Beach Ball Classic contest in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Although as demanding as last year's schedule, the 2001-2002 slate has one advantage over last year, it features 16 home games as opposed to only 13 last season.
"We are playing more home games this year and I am excited about that," said Coach Walvius. "The Columbia fans will have more opportunities to see the Lady Gamecocks in action.
During the offseason, assistant Chris Brower joined the USC coaching staff replacing longtime Walvius assistant Jimmy DeShazo. Brower was previously an assistant with the Lander University men's basketball team and is considered to be a top recruiter. Still the most accurate three-point shooter in Virginia Commonwealth University history, Brower has already impressed Head Coach Walvius with his recruiting hard work.
"Obviously we miss Jimmy DeShazo but in a short amount of time, Chris Brower already has South Carolina on the lists of more top recruits than ever before. I've known him since my coaching days at VCU and he will be a great fit on our coaching staff. In addition to being a fantastic recruiter, he also is a very good coach with a good head for the game."
"We'll be a veteran team this season from the point to the post. For the first time since I've been here, the point guard spot will be a strength for us. One of our objectives with the Europe trip was to develop our point guard play and going overseas gave Kelly Morrone the chance to get back into the flow. Cristina Ciocan gained a little more experience at playing the position and Shaunzinski Gortman saw time at the point as she has during previous seasons. Each of these players brings a different strength to the point guard position. Ciocan sees the floor really well and pushes the ball upcourt. Morrone makes us more structured in our halfcourt offense while Gortman brings quickness to the position.
"I would like for us to establish ourselves as one of the best rebounding teams in the country and I believe that we have the post players to make that happen this season.
"We must improve our halfcourt offensive execution. One of the many benefits of having an experienced team, like we have this season, is that the players are veterans and are more disciplined in stressful situations.
"This team has the players, the talent, the size and the experience to be very good this year. But, it's going to come down to how hard our players are willing to work.
"The SEC is a very tough conference and the teams that are successful have maturity, experience and guts. I feel that we have the experience and maturity but the wins and losses will come down to what kinds of guts we have as a team. I'm excited about the 2001-2002 season and believe that it is going to be our best season ever at South Carolina."