Coach Jeff Walz met with members of the media on Tuesday to discuss the upcoming season, celebrate his birthday, and introduce the many newcomers of his Cardinal squad. The overarching theme of this media day, like most others, was one of excitement and optimism. While Coach Walz seemed excited about the individual talent of his team, he was more impressed with the quality of the character of each of the young ladies he and his staff has brought in. Walz said “It’s something that we’ve taken great pride in during the recruiting process, not only to go out and identify great basketball players, but great people that are surrounded by great families and great support. That’s what we have.”
With nine freshmen and sophomores, coach expects the season to be “interesting.” Although youth is a factor for this team, Coach Walz is not shying away from what will be expected of the newcomers. “It’s going to be a year where we are going to count on a lot of our freshmen to play. Going to have to be impact players, not players that are just going to go in there and occupy time and occupy space. I really believe we have a freshman group that is going to be able to do that.” As far as the returning players, Walz was excited about the progress of the veteran players. “Arica Carter has made significant improvements, I’m excited for her.” Meanwhile, returning sophomores, Myisha Hines-Allen and Mariya Moore both participated in organized basketball with Moore competing in the World Games in Russia for the U/19 team, and Hines-Allen trying out for both the Pan Am team, and the US National team.
With a challenging early season slate, the Cards will be forced to grow up quickly. The season tips off on November 15th in the KFC Yum! Center against Cal, and does not let up. With potential early season tournament match ups against either Illinois or LSU, this Cardinal team will be compelled to compete against elite level talent. It is a challenge that Coach Walz recognizes, but one thing that stuck out was how much he likes his team. A few notes from the coach about his squad:
Cortnee Walton – “Really like her rebounding. She is one of the best rebounders I’ve ever coached.”
Briahanna Jackson – (Redshirt junior transfer from UCF) “I really think our crowds are going to enjoy watching her play.” “Her athleticism, her ability to defend and get to the rim, it’s really going to be exciting.”
Asia Durr – “Probably about 70-75% right now.” (Recovering from a groin injury.) Working on bringing her back in shorter bursts as she cannot compete at full speed for prolonged periods of time. “Explosiveness is just not there currently, but her ball handling skills are the best I’ve seen in 19 years of coaching.”
Taja Cole – “Her quickness and athleticism are things we are going to rely on a lot. I think she is going to help turn us into a little bit of a faster team than we have been the past few years. Just really have to get her to focus on throwing it to the right team.”
Brianna Jones – “Another freshman is shooting the ball extremely well, she is going to continue to get better.”
Erin DeGrate – “Erin at 6’5″ is going to be solid… It’s a big change from high school where you played a two-three zone for 99% of the time.” “When you’re 6’5″ in high school they tell you to stand in the middle with your arms straight up. Well, that’s not what we’re asking her to do.”
Sam Fuehring – “Is one that I think is going to really impress a lot of our fans.” “Very athletic at 6’2″, can rebound the ball well and shoot the three.”
As for the players, most seemed excited just to be there participating in their first media day. The elder statesperson of the group, Cortnee Walton gave a glimpse into this year’s squad in comparison to seasons past. “I would say we’re up there. We are really talented and very deep.” “We’ve been deep in the past, but now all 12 people can play.” “It’s not a matter of getting these five ready to play and then a couple of subs, everybody is really talented.” When asked if that poses a different kind of challenge or issue for the staff, Walton dismissed that notion quickly. “One of the things I really respect about Coach Walz is he’s very honest. He’s not going to keep you guessing about why you are not playing.” “He’s told us several times, ‘if you want to play more, come to my office and talk to me. I will tell you what you need to work on to be on the floor.'”
Given the freshman talent level coming in, and the solid core of returning young players, along with a transfer or two, this year’s Cardinal basketball squad has all the makings of a special team. It will certainly be interesting to watch and see how Coach Walz manages this group.
Tickets for the November opener against Cal are still on sale. If you haven’t been to a women’s basketball game, you are in for a treat. This year’s team appears to be locked and loaded and they deserve all of Card Nation’s support.
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