USC Women's Basketball 2006-07 Outlook

Aug. 1, 2006

Thanks to the wonders of Tivo, the nation has grown accustomed to having a fast-forward/rewind button at its fingertips. Take a stab at that button and peruse the path that Mark Trakh's Women of Troy have been on as they enter the 2006-07 women's basketball season...

As you speed through the highlight reels from USC's past two seasons under Trakh and Co., you may have noticed that the 2005-06 season held a remarkable likeness to the previous year. In back-to-back seasons, the Women of Troy turned heads and raised eyebrows in plowing their way through Pac-10 competition to reach the NCAA Second Round in 2005 and 2006. Both times, USC ended up bowing out of NCAA action to a team that eventually reached the final, falling to stacked squads from Michigan State in 2005 and Duke in 2006.

This season, the 2006-07 Trojans hope to turn the tables on that little trend. In order to carve a path even deeper into NCAA action, the Women of Troy plan to breach the postseason barriers that they've come up against in recent years.

Barrier No. 1 has been the injury bug, which practically took on epidemic status in 2006 when four athletes were sidelined for NCAA action, and several more celebrated USC's postseason run and 19-12 finish with either surgery, ankle braces and/or at least part-time residence in the athletic training room.

'If we're healthy, our hope is to go deep into the NCAA Tournament,' coach Trakh said. 'Just the fact that we won 19 games last season and got to the second round I thought was a really nice year. But I don't want next year to be a repeat of getting down to seven healthy players. We'll play anybody, we just gotta be healthy.'

Barrier No. 2 is bigger than it looks. Every year, rosters take a hit from graduation. Only one senior is gone from USC's 2005-06 lineup, but the departure of team captain Meghan Gnekow causes almost as many dents to the Trojans' game as the senior forward took to her body during her time at Troy.

Trakh's solution to filling the void left by Gnekow and her gutsy presence on the court: Four new players with a combined talent level that ranked them the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation.

'Our recruits are very versatile,' Trakh said. 'We have big guards, and I think if we're healthy our strength is our depth. All our players have good length and good height and we're athletic. We're a deep basketball team.'

That should do the trick, and should give the Women of Troy a hefty lift to catapulting over...

Barrier No. 3: A wildly competitive Pac-10 Conference. A record six Pac-10 teams reached the NCAA Tournament in 2006. Five won their first-round games, and three ended the season ranked in the Top 25.

'The Pac-10 is ascending to be one of the premier conferences in the country,' Trakh said. 'The good news for the Pac-10 is that we're keeping a lot of the best players on the West Coast, and that's what we need to do. The Pac-10 is growing in leaps and bounds and hopefully teams will go deeper in the tournament.'

Six Pac-10 players received WBCA/Kodak All-America honors last season, and four of those players are back for more this year. One of those all-stars hails from USC, marking one of the Trojans' aces in the pocket for a competitive run at the Pac-10 title. All-America honorable mention recipient Shay Murphy (Van Nuys, Calif.) was USC's leader in scoring, rebounding and steals in 2005-06 and carries a 25-game streak of double-digit scoring performances into her senior year at Troy.

Murphy and junior point guard Camille LeNoir (Los Angeles, Calif.) stand out as USC's most dangerous duo. LeNoir had her summer workouts interrupted by a hip injury that may delay her return to the court, but the talented point guard is expected to return in full force once healed. LeNoir was the Trojans' No. 2 scorer and No. 1 distributor as a sophomore. She made the move to USC soon after coach Trakh and his staff took over at Troy for the 2004-05 season, and so far the combination has proven wildly effective. Trakh and assistants Jody Wynn, Derek Wynn and Kai Felton are now entering their third season at USC. Now a junior, LeNoir also has settled comfortably and commandingly into her go-to role at the point.

LeNoir is now one of three USC athletes hailing from nearby Narbonne High School. Senior forward Jamie Funn (Los Angeles, Calif.) is the eldest of the trio, with freshman Morghan Medlock (Pasadena, Calif.) rounding out the high school connections on the Trojan roster. Four years ago, the three were teammates on Narbonne's Los Angeles City Section champion team.

Funn is now one of seven seniors on the USC squad. Her junior season was cut short when an offseason hip injury required surgery halfway through the year. Thanks to a broken nose suffered early in the season, Funn donned a face mask for the 16 games she appeared in. She notched nine starts and averaged 5.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. Now with a healed hip and nose, Funn is in line to return as one of the Trojans' forces in the paint.

Down low, Funn has another senior standout anchoring the key. Center Chloé Kerr (Bolingbrook, Ill.) was USC's third leading scorer (9.4 ppg) and the Pac-10's third leading shot blocker (1.5 bpg) as a junior. At 6-3, Kerr boasts the height and experience to stand strong as the Trojans' go-to post player.

USC's other senior post player is Markisha Lea (Riverside, Calif.), whose athleticism off the bench has been key to the Trojans' depth. Lea saw time in 28 games as a junior and hit career highs in scoring (10 points) and rebounds (eight rebs) during games last season.

At the guard position, USC returns two of its hardest working senior guards in Jamie Hagiya (Torrance, Calif.) and Allison Jaskowiak (Chesterfield, Mo.). A well-respected point guard, Hagiya stands out as the Pac-10 leader in assist/turnover ratio and was second on the team in assists as a junior. She has climbed the Trojan career charts as the No. 9 all-time 3-point shooter (80 career threes) and the No. 10 all-time assists leader (284 career assists). This season, Hagiya's defensive tenacity, ball-handling and distribution skills will again be a huge factor in the gameplan for the Women of Troy.

Jaskowiak is back for more after a phenomenal junior season for the Trojans. As the USC roster was thinned out by injuries, Jaskowiak made it known to her teammates and opponents that she wouldn't let the Women of Troy down, even with a banged-up body of her own down the final stretch of the 2005-06 season. She hadn't started a game in her first two years at USC, but as a junior she proved a crucial part of the Trojans' starting lineup. Jaskowiak started 23 games and averaged 26.4 minutes per game, standing out as an unselfish player with dominating defensive skills and an ability to both hit the boards and the perimeter shot.

Joining Murphy, Funn, Kerr, Lea, Hagiya and Jaskowiak for her final season at Troy is Kristen Travers (Trabuco Canyon, Calif.), who will graduate following the 2006-07 season. Travers joined the Women of Troy as a transfer last year, seeing time in 11 games as a shooting guard. She brings up the grand total of seniors on the Trojan roster to seven, paving the way for a shining season for the versatile Women of Troy.

'This is an awesome senior class,' Trakh said. 'This class has turned this program around along with past seniors Kim Gipson, Rachel Woodward and Meghan Gnekow. Our seniors have turned things around on the basketball court by being hard and unselfish workers and from a public relations aspect in that they're embraced by the campus community. The team was voted the most spirited team at USC, and this senior class is just a great unselfish group of kids that have done a wonderful job. They're talented, smart and have done well in the classroom and on the court. We know they want to go out by making deep run into the NCAA Tournament.'

USC's seven-player strong senior class is backed up by plenty of extra punch. In addition to top point guard LeNoir, who is geared up to lead the Women of Troy as a junior, USC has two more juniors returning from injuries in 2006.

Guard Brynn Cameron (Newbury Park, Calif.) was an All-Pac-10 honorable mention pick and USC's leading scorer as a freshman before hip surgery interrupted her sophomore season. Cameron appeared in 13 games as a sophomore and managed to match her career best of six 3-pointers in a game and move up to rank No. 6 all-time in career threes with 91 until -- again -- her hip trouble demanded a second surgery that cut short her 2005-06 season. The extra healing time from this last surgery has allowed Cameron a bigger window to hit the gym and tune up her potent perimeter attack. Expect to see Cameron back in action for her junior year, stretching out the defense and draining her fast-trigger threes once more.

After injuries have stunted the first two seasons at USC for forward Símone Jelks (South Euclid, Ohio), the junior is ready to step back into the rotation for the Women of Troy this year. Jelks offers another strong option for the Trojans, as she has the versatility to play inside and on the perimeter, and presents a reliable defensive force.

In contrast to the load of seniors and juniors, USC has just one sophomore in center Nadia Parker (Spanaway, Wash.). Also towering in the key at 6-3, Parker provides a strong one-two punch at the post when paired with Kerr. Parker played in every game as a freshman, generating 4.4 points and 3.0 rebounds per game to go along with 19 blocks. An enthusiastic presence in the paint, Parker brings size, strength and a deepening pool of experience to the center position for the Women of Troy.

In contrast to the one-woman recruiting class that Parker represented in her freshman season, USC drummed up four additions to the roster for 2006. Narbonne grad Morghan Medlock is joined by fellow blue-chip newcomers Hailey Dunham (Los Angeles, Calif.), Jacki Gemelos (Stockton, Calif.) and Aarika Hughes (Beaverton, Ore.) as the Trojan freshmen this year. Heralded as the top recruiting class in the nation, the foursome will put the finishing touches on Trakh's 2006-07 lineup.

Gemelos was tabbed the No. 1 recruit in the nation and a McDonald's All-American in her senior year at St. Mary's High School. Although she suffered a torn ACL at the close of her prep season, Gemelos is eager to hit the floor for the Women of Troy. At 6-0, Gemelos is a mismatch waiting to happen, as she has a startling ball-handling ability coupled by an offensive firepower that has gone unmatched, and which stands to propel her to the top of the collegiate game in the very near future.

Medlock, too, was a McDonald's All-American, and as a 6-1 guard/forward, she offers up another level of versatility to USC's game. A proven scorer and presence on the boards, Medlock is primed for inclusion in the Trojans' rotation.

Hughes and Dunham also have the tools to add an instant punch to USC's game. Hughes' Southridge High School squad lost just five games in three years, thanks in large part to the 6-2 guard's all-around abilities. Hughes will be an important tool of added versatility on the perimeter for the Women of Troy, while Dunham will be called upon for additional backcourt duties. Although both stand 6-2, Dunham boasts such deft ball-handling and distribution skills, and Hughes poses such a threat from the 3-point arc along with defensive shutdown skills, that their key roles will be as guards for the Trojans.

As an overwhelming welcoming gift to the new-and-improved USC team, the Women of Troy kick off their 2006-07 season in a new home. The impressive Galen Center facility offers a plush and state-of-the-art forum for the Women of Troy to build on their tradition of success. Coach Trakh and his troops have 15 home games on the schedule -- not including the 2007 NCAA First and Second Rounds that the Women of Troy plan to be a part of in March.

'The Galen Center is going to be an incredible facility for basketball,' Trakh said. 'It has all the amenities that you could ask for, including our own practice facility. We're gonna pack it for women's games.'

Galen Center's glittery opening day for USC women's action is set for Nov. 10, when the Trojans have a heated rematch to wage against Long Beach State. The 49ers dealt an unexpected and disappointing 51-46 loss to USC last season, but the Trojans have the opportunity to avenge things in their 2006 home opener and debut game at the Galen Center.

All told, the Women of Troy have five scheduled opponents ranked in the final USA Today/ESPN Top 25 poll. Three of those are Pac-10 foes whom USC will see at least twice this coming season. The Trojans were 2-7 against ranked teams in 2005-06. The first top-25 team on tap for USC -- which received votes in the final poll -- will be No. 10 Ohio State on Nov. 19 in Columbus, Ohio. Two weeks later, USC comes up against No. 12 Utah, again on the road, on Dec. 4 in Salt Lake City. The Trojans' next three ranked opponents are Pac-10 team: No. 7 Stanford, No. 17 Arizona State and No. 18 UCLA. USC lost three times to the Cardinal in 2005-06, split games with the Sun Devils, and swept the Bruins during Pac-10 action.

Ohio State dealt USC a 68-57 loss in their nonconference showdown in 2005, while Utah will be a relatively fresh face for the Trojans. The teams last faced in a nonconference tournament in 1996, when USC posted an 81-59 victory.

Although only two nonconference opponents boast rankings in the latest poll, USC's 2006-07 schedule will be undoubtedly competitive. The Trojans will leave the comforts of their new Galen home for four nonconference games. Following the season opener vs. Long Beach State, USC visits South Dakota State on Nov. 17 before the trip to Ohio State on Nov. 19. The Trojans will then continue their yearly face-off with the storied Notre Dame program by returning home to host the Fighting Irish on Nov. 24, followed by another Galen match against Nebraska on Nov. 26. The Trojans haven't squared off with the Cornhuskers since 1992.

Then, it's back to the road for a stint in the Rockies, first at Colorado on Dec. 2. USC next hits Salt Lake City for its clash with Utah on Dec. 4.

USC will then stay at home for five games, closing out nonconference play with three games, including the Women of Troy Basketball Classic from Dec. 15-16 when joined by Houston, Prairie View A&M and another team to be announced. Prairie View A&M brings back a familiar face to the Trojan program in the form of Panthers head coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, who was a member of USC's back-to-back NCAA champion teams in 1983 and 1984.

On Dec. 20, the Trojans kick off Pac-10 action with the same opponent they closed out the 2006 Pac-10 Tournament with -- defending conference champ Stanford.

USC is coming off a 2005-06 season where it posted an 11-7 mark in Pac-10 play to finish tied with Washington in fourth place behind Stanford, Arizona State and UCLA. Eight Pac-10 regular-season games were decided by five or fewer points for the Trojans, leaving USC with a 5-3 mark in those tight conference games. After three straight down-to-the-wire games at the close of the regular season, USC pulled out possibly its most crucial win with a tense 70-67 victory over Washington in the quarterfinals of the Pac-10 Tournament. That effort gave the Trojans their 18th win to lock them into the NCAA Tournament.

This year, the Women of Troy plan to make a run through Pac-10 competition and into the postseason in a more decisive fashion. With 11 returning players, four newcomers and a coaching staff now settled into their new Galen Center home, USC has a program built to outlast all comers this season. You might want to set your Tivo to record this one.

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