2007-08 USC Women's Basketball Season Outlook
Aug. 9, 2007
Head coach Mark Trakh hasn't bought any rabbit's feet yet, but he has been keeping his eyes peeled for lucky pennies. And he may start looking into purchasing some stock in ankle braces and medical tape. Long story short, the USC roster has taken more than its fair share of hits in the past couple seasons. But it seems coach Trakh (knock on wood) may finally have picked up a good penny after all, because the 2007-08 USC women's basketball team is (knock again) looking good to go.
'Hopefully luck will be on our side and we'll stay healthy,' Trakh said. 'I'm cautiously optimistic as always, but I'm looking forward to us being successful. I think we can be really good if we can stay healthy.'
The first thing fans and followers will notice about this season's pack of Women of Troy is some faces who haven't quite been on the forefront of the Trojan lineup in a while. Four players who redshirted last season due to injuries et al are back in the mix. Standout point guard Camille LeNoir has healed up following hip surgery; Markisha Lea steps back in as a senior with cartilage intact in her knee; Brynn Cameron sustained her second hip surgery and gave birth to her first child on her way back to the court; and the nation's top recruit Jacki Gemelos has a healthy knee to bring her back into the spotlight for her eager teammates and fans.
'Jacki has been working hard to get back to us,' Trakh said. 'I think she'll be fun to watch and with Camille healthy we have a lot of potential in our guards.'
Further balancing out the departure of five 2007 graduates are a pair of seniors who have extended their Trojan careers in unique ways. Kate Henderson and Allison Jaskowiak were freshmen together in 2003-04. Henderson wound up transferring after that season, but has since returned to USC and has worked her way back into the picture. Jaskowiak was granted a medical redshirt for that freshman season and has thus received another season of eligibility that allows her to return for her final year on the Trojan roster.
Who knew that hiding under that penny would be the equivalent of a starting lineup AND a sub?
Trakh would have traded more than a penny for half that same pool of talent last season, when USC's depleted lineup (Jaskowiak included) limped into a rocky start to the 2006-07 season, reached the semifinals of the Pac-10 Tournament for the third straight season, winding up just short of a spot in the NCAA Tournament with a 19-11 overall record.
'There's only one reason we didn't go to the tournament last year and that was our injuries,' Trakh said.
Fortunately for Trakh and Co., the abnormally shaky 2006-07 season did not shake the Trojans' hunger to persevere. With LeNoir, Cameron and Jaskowiak alone back on the court, USC taps back into the talent pool that helped spark the Women of Troy's resurgence to the NCAA Tournament scene with back-to-back postseason runs in 2004-05 and 2005-06.
Add to that the highly anticipated arrival of Gemelos, and throw in the senior experience of Lea and Símone Jelks, and Trakh may well allow himself to cut back on the penny search and be able to enjoy watching his squad in action.
'We're excited about the season. Even though we've already had one season-ending injury,' Trakh said, referencing the torn ACL of incoming freshman Stefanie Gilbreath, suffered just before the 2007 McDonald's All-American Game. 'We hope to stay injury-free the rest of the way. I'm definitely excited about the potential we have. We lost a very unique and special group of seniors, but we have good kids coming in this year, talent- and personality-wise.'
Of particular note is the backcourt strength on the roster. The departure of All-Pac-10 guard Shay Murphy (now in the WNBA) and assists-leader Jamie Hagiya put a dent in the lineup that the LeNoir-Gemelos combination should adequately fill. Both have deft ball-handling skills and a keen eye for distribution, as well as a dangerous perimeter attack. Off-guard Cameron was USC's top scorer as a freshman before hip injuries cut into her time on the floor, but her sharp-shooting abilities from 3-point range remain, and her return will truly help open up USC's many scoring options.
'I think the backcourt can be very dynamic,' Trakh said. 'It's a backcourt that can put points on the board. Having Camille and Jacki out there healthy will be exciting to watch. Brynn is one of the best shooters in country, and we have some new kids to add to the depth.'
Lined up to add that depth charge to the backcourt is transfer Heather 'Ollie' Oliver, a member of the Australian Under-21 National Team, which won silver at the U-21 Women's World Championships this summer.
'Ollie is a great athlete,' Trakh said. 'We also have plenty of other back as well. Hailey Dunham has been working very hard; Símone Jelks is back to provide her great defense and has worked hard on her offensive game; Aarika Hughes, we're expecting great improvements from her. She's going to be a great for us. And Nicole Berberet will work hard as always. She and Lisa Yamasaki were both helpful additions to the team last season.'
In the paint, although center Chloé Kerr and power forward Jamie Funn also have graduated, junior Nadia Parker and sophomore Morghan Medlock already have proven capable understudies ready to take a go-to role in the key. Parker has progressed into one of the more athletic and tenacious posts in the Pac-10, with great shot-blocking ability and a knack for the boards. Medlock earned Pac-10 All-Freshman honorable mention in 2006-07 and was the lone member of USC's top-ranked freshman class to appear in every game, returning as a true sophomore with a versatile game that will keep defenses guessing.
'Chloé and Jamie were smart and positionally correct,' Trakh said of his departed posts. 'They really knew how to run our system. But I do think this year's players can step up. Markisha Lea can jump out of the gym, and Nadia Parker has just continued to improve in leaps and bounds. Freshman Kari LaPlante brings us some much-needed height, and Morghan Medlock has been working hard to really improve her game and be a real matchup problem for our front lines.'
Medlock's fellow sophomores Dunham and Hughes both encountered injuries that limited playing time in their first seasons at Troy, but each proved themselves as impact players with strong games at the guard slots. Meanwhile, experience and versatility will enable Jaskowiak and Kate Henderson to transition between guard and forward slots. And perhaps even more importantly, their leadership in all respects will be key to USC's success in 2007-08.
'Allison, you can't replace her defense,' Trakh said of Jaskowiak. 'She's our heart and soul, our leader. And Kate will really help with the chemistry on the team because of her mature leadership.'
USC will redshirt two players for the year, as Gilbreath -- a top-10 ranked recruit -- has undergone surgery to mend her torn ACL, and Fordham University transfer Daniela Roark will redshirt her first season at USC per NCAA rules.
If all goes as planned (knock on wood once again), the Women of Troy will have 11 returning players and four newcomers set to hit the floor for their 2007-08 campaign. Schedule-wise, the preseason is peppered with plenty of solid opponents, and once again the Pac-10 will present a wild ride. In order to build some momentum into conference play and better then fifth-place Pac-10 finish from last year, the Trojans have a series of tough contests lined up against several powerful programs.
'Our schedule is competitive,' Trakh said. 'We have some big nonconference games against Georgia, Virginia Tech, Michigan, Colorado, Nebraska and Utah.'
First on the docket is a trip to Big West Conference power UC Santa Barbara on Nov. 11. A week later, the Trojans will hold their home opener with a face-off against Colorado, which USC faced and beat last season in Boulder, Colo. The Women of Troy will be spending Thanksgiving in the Bahamas this year, joining Virginia Tech, Georgia and Prairie View A&M in the Freeport Division of the Junkaroo Jam at Grand Bahama Island.
Upon returning stateside, the Trojans stay local with a quick visit to Cal State Fullerton on Nov. 30 before setting up shop at the Galen Center once more on Dec. 3 to host Utah. USC lost a tough one to the Utes last season on the road, and so will be looking to avenge things and build up some extra momentum for the stretch into conference action.
A nonconference road trip will take the Trojans through another revenge opportunity with a Dec. 8 visit to Nebraska, which upended the Women of Troy at the Galen Center in 2006. Two days later, USC will be in Ann Arbor to square off against Michigan -- a team the Trojans have never before faced.
Upon returning home, Trakh and his coaching staff will get their first opportunity to face a very familiar program. Four years after moving from Pepperdine to USC, Trakh and assistants Jody and Derek Wynn and Kai Felton play host to the Waves on Dec. 15. The Trojans last faced Pepperdine in 2002-03, winning 64-63 while Trakh was at the Waves' helm. The programs have not faced since that time, making this season's showdown at USC an interesting collision of Trakh's collegiate coaching experiences as well as an opportunity for the Trojans to extend an undefeated all-time record against the Waves.
The final pair of nonconference games come Dec. 20-21 at the second annual Women of Troy Classic -- this year bringing Hawai'i, Grambling State and Portland State to the Galen Center.
All told, the USC schedule contains seven teams that reached the 2007 NCAA Tournament (Georgia, Prairie View A&M, Nebraska, Arizona State, California, Stanford and Washington) and three teams that ended the year ranked in the top-25 (No. 13/13 Georgia, No. 10/8 Arizona State and No. 5/16 Stanford).
Four of those NCAA teams hail from the Pac-10, hinting at another competitive and unpredictable conference season.
'It's always a battle in the Pac-10, but we're looking forward to it,' Trakh said. 'I'm cautiously optimistic as always, but eager to get this team on the court ready for a successful season.'