Women's Hoops Starts Practice Saturday

Oct. 15, 2004

LOS ANGELES - The USC women's basketball team, under the leadership of new head coach Mark Trakh and his coaching staff, officially kicks off the 2004-05 season with the first day of practice on Saturday, Oct. 16.

Trakh, who was hired in April and has a history of success after spending 11 seasons at nearby Pepperdine and 13 years on the prep level, looks to begin a new era of Women of Troy basketball with nine returning letterwinners and four newcomers.

With a young squad featuring only three upperclassmen and 11 freshmen and sophomores, USC is in search of its first NCAA berth since 1996. The team will rely on a number of local standouts, including returning part-time starters Jamie Hagiya (Torrance, Calif.), Jamie Funn (Los Angeles, Calif.) and Eshaya Murphy (Van Nuys, Calif.). The three sophomores earned Pac-10 All-Freshman honorable mention honors in 2004.

Meghan Gnekow, a junior guard from Santa Ynez, Calif., is the only full-time starter on the roster. She averaged 7.9 points and 5.5 rebounds last season.

The Trojans also boast a heralded recruiting class that includes local standouts Brynn Cameron of Newbury Park (Calif.) High and Camille Lenoir of Harbor City's Narbonne High.

USC's 2004-05 begins at the DePaul Moran Realty Classic in Chicago, Ill., Nov. 19 and 20. The first home game of the year is against Notre Dame on Friday, Nov. 26, at the Sports Arena on the eve of the annual Trojan-Irish football showdown.


It is safe to say that the USC women's basketball team is headed in the right direction as they prepare for the 2004-05 season. Actually, you could say that the team is `back on Trakh' or `on the right Trakh,' as in new head coach Mark Trakh.

Trakh, who in his 11 years as the head women's basketball coach at Pepperdine guided his team into postseason play each of the past six seasons and won four conference titles, became the seventh head coach in Trojan program history on April 14, 2004.

Now he faces the charge of guiding the Women of Troy back to national prominence. After 24 successful years at the prep and collegiate levels, this may be one of the greatest challenges of his career.

'USC is a wonderful institution and I am honored to now be a part of it,' said Trakh, who was twice named West Coast Conference Coach of the Year (1999, 2002) at Pepperdine. 'We will work very hard to make USC basketball one of the top teams in the country once again.'

Trakh is definitely not without his own history of success. From 1994-2004, Trakh built a nationally recognized program in Malibu that made six postseason appearances and dominated play in the WCC, winning four of the last six league titles. His record at Pepperdine was 199-123 (.618), including a 99-55 (.643) mark in the WCC. His teams advanced to the NCAA Tournament three times (2000, 2002, 2003).

Prior to Pepperdine, Trakh spent 13 successful seasons at Brea (Calif.) Olinda High, where he put together a national powerhouse that compiled a cumulative record of 354-45 (.887) and earned annual rankings from USA Today.

But now Trakh must find a way to get the Women of Troy back on track. USC, which has not advanced to the NCAA Tournament in eight years (since 1997), must find a way to quickly integrate a young squad under a new coaching staff and compete in the Pac-10 Conference.

Trakh brings with him his assistant coaching staff from Pepperdine, including Jody Wynn, a former USC women's basketball standout guard (1993-96) who played under her maiden name of Anton, Derek Wynn, her husband, and Kai Felton.

The Women of Troy are coming off a disappointing 15-13 season that, once again, ended with a loss to Washington in the first round of the Pac-10 Tournament. What made last year's season even more difficult was that at times the team showed glimpses of greatness.

Midway through the season USC was on the verge of the taking the lead in the conference race. Things were looking up as the Women of Troy upset both Stanford and Arizona to pull within a half-game of the conference-leader and top-10 ranked Cardinal. But the team lost five of the final 10 games to finish in a tie for third place with an 11-7 league mark.

The year was highlighted by the performance of then-senior Ebony Hoffman, who completed her career at Troy as one of the program's highly celebrated players. Hoffman led the team in scoring and rebounding, earned her second straight All-Pac-10 first team honor and WBCA Region VIII All-America honor, and was selected as the ninth pick overall in the 2004 WNBA Draft.

Hoffman, and three other then-seniors - Jessica Cheeks, Rometra Craig and Tiffany Hicks - left behind a group of nine young returners, including two seniors, one junior and six sophomores, and an entirely new coaching staff.

'It is very difficult for me, and my coaching staff, to predict what this team is going to look like this year,' said Trakh. 'We have not been in a practice situation, we do not know the players' work ethic or what their strengths and weaknesses are, so it's hard to say what our outlook should be.

'I do know that we lost half to three-fourths of our scoring and rebounding with last year's senior class and we will have to figure out how to replace that.'

In 2004, Hoffman, Craig, Cheeks and Hicks, accounted for exactly 50 percent of the Women of Troy's offensive output. The nine remaining players all received playing time and contributed fairly equal numbers.

Though the team may have lost its superstars, the returners are more than prepared to take the lead.

'I think their attitudes have been great,' said Trakh. 'They're motivated and they're working hard. I am really lucky with the way they have accepted the coaching staff.

'As far as I'm concerned, the field is wide open regarding our potential starting lineup. We're just looking forward to getting in the gym and seeing how this team comes together.'

Leading the way for the returners are senior forward Rachel Woodward (Murrieta, Calif.) and senior center Kim Gipson (Westchester, Calif.). Both will serve as team co-captains in 2004.

'I'd like to see our two seniors step up and lead on and off the court,' said Trakh. 'We need them to be leaders by example - by what they say and what they do. It's their final year and I want them to go out with a successful season.'

Woodward, a starter her freshman and sophomore seasons, did not log as many minutes as a junior. She played in all 28 games, but averaged only 14.9 minutes per outing. Still, in the short time, the 6-foot-1 post player contributed 3.8 points, 2.6 rebounds and nearly an assist per game. Over her three-year career, Woodward has a 44.2 shooting percentage from the field and 68.1 percent at the line.

The 6-foot-5 Gipson played the role of part-time starter in 2004. Behind Hoffman for the past three seasons, she replaced her at the No. 5 position when the team needed to utilize a bigger lineup. Last season, Gipson made 11 starts and played in 27 games. She averaged 2.9 points and 1.9 rebounds in 11.6 minutes per game.

Junior guard Meghan Gnekow (Santa Ynez, Calif.) may have been the biggest contributor on the team last season. A then-sophomore, Gnekow emerged as a true team leader and was the only player to start all 28 games. She finished second on the team (14th in the Pac-10) in rebounding (5.5 rpg) and third on the team in scoring (7.9 ppg).

At 5-foot-11, Gnekow also had a 45.1 field goal shooting percentage, a 32.8 shooting percentage from three-point range and 70.9 percent at the line, in addition to contributing 1.6 assists and 0.6 steals per game. She was honored with the `Coaches Award' for her contributions during the season.

'I would love to see Meghan step into a leadership role this season,' said Trakh. 'She is a confident player who will be successful.'

The remaining six returners all enter 2005 with only one year of experience under their belts. As the largest freshman class to ever enter the Women of Troy program (there were seven freshmen in 2003, but Katie Henderson did not return for her sophomore year), these players played a major role last season. All seven saw playing time and four of the seven earned starting roles throughout the year.

Sophomore forward Eshaya Murphy (Van Nuys, Calif.), who goes by the nickname of Shay, tops the list as one of the more heralded prep players in the class. At 5-foot-11, Murphy was a consistent contributor off the bench for the Women of Troy in 2004. She played in 27 games and made two starts, averaging 14 minutes per game. She contributed 5.7 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 0.7 assists per game, and was one of four USC freshmen to be named to the Pac-10 All-Freshman honorable mention team.

'Shay is one of those players who we know will be outstanding for us in the years to come,' said Trakh. 'We are really looking forward to her stepping up and contributing to the success of this team day-in and day-out.'

Jamie Funn (Los Angeles), Jamie Hagiya (Torrance, Calif.) and Chloé Kerr (Bolingbrook, Ill.) were the other three freshmen to earn Pac-10 All-Freshman honorable mention accolades.

Funn returns as one of the Women of Troy's part-time starters from last season. The 6-foot-2 forward, whose sister played for Trakh at Pepperdine, was integral in the Trojans' lineup. Among the other freshman, she made the most starts (10) and played all 28 games. Funn averaged 4.0 points and 4.1 rebounds, while logging more than 16 minutes of playing time per game.

Hagiya, who was a late signee for the Trojans in 2003, proved her worth during her freshman campaign. With Hicks unable to play an entire game due to injury, Hagiya's play became invaluable. The 5-foot-4 point guard played 28 games, made two starts and averaged nearly 19 minutes a game. She led the team with 73 assists (2.6 apg), in addition to averaging 5.8 points and 1.5 steals per outing. With a 35.8 shooting percentage from three-point range, she was one of the team's best outside shooters.

In the post, the 6-foot-3 Kerr also showed that she could compete with the league's best. Substituting for both Hoffman and Gipson at center, Kerr played all 28 games and made five starts, averaging 10.5 minutes per game. She tallied 3.3 points, 2.1 rebounds, 0.4 assists and 0.4 blocks per game.

The two remaining sophomores - 6-1 center Markisha Lea (Riverside, Calif.) and 5-11 guard/forward Allison Jaskowiak (Chesterfield, Mo.) -- complete USC's returning lineup. Both received limited playing time as freshmen.

'I know that this team is young and everything will be very new to everyone this season,' said Trakh. 'But our goal is to concentrate on the process, and the process is to wok as hard as we can day-to-day. At the end of the season, if we took care of business, then we will look back and realize that we accomplished great things.

'We need our returners to show the new freshmen the way because the incoming class is very solid. The players seem like they really want to work, and it looks like they want to get it done on the court and in the classroom.'

The 2004 incoming freshman class is made up of four top prep players, including 5-10 guard Brynn Cameron (Newbury Park, Calif.), 5-8 point guard Jazlyn Davis (Toledo, Ohio), 5-11 forward Símone Jelks (South Euclid, Ohio) and 5-6 guard Camille Lenoir (Los Angeles).

Cameron was a four-year letterwinner at Newbury Park (Calif.) High, where she set a school record for both boys and girls with 1,754 career points and aldo had 632 rebounds. As one of the most heralded prep players to come out of Ventura County, she was the 2004 CIF Division 3A Player of the Year, Ventura County Star Player of the Year and Los Angeles Times Ventura/North Coast Player of the Year.

Davis will provide much-needed depth for the Women of Troy at the point. As a prep at Toledo (Ohio) Bowsher High, she led the City League in scoring as a junior and senior, and was ranked as high as No. 63 according to the All-Star Girls Report. She was invited to the Nike All-American basketball camp in 2003 and, along with fellow freshman Jelks, played on the All-Ohio Black AAU team which won the End-of-the-Trail Tournament in Portland, Ore., in 2003.

Jelks, a small forward from Charles F. Brush High in Lyndhurst, Ohio, is a player known for her defensive skills. A Street & Smith All-American honorable mention pick, she was selected to compete at the 2004 Ohio/West Virginia All-Star Game, 2004 Ohio North/South All-Star Game and the 2003 Adidas Top-10 Camp.

A former teammate of Funn, LeNoir prepped at national powerhouse Narbonne High in Harbor City, Calif. This four-year letterwinner earned such honors as 2004 WBCA All-America honorable mention, McDonald's All-America Top 100, Cal-Hi Sports All-State third team and Street & Smith All-America honorable mention.

'Our biggest challenge will be getting this team to play together,' said Trakh. 'We must play together if we are going to be successful. If we do that, fans will begin to see an exciting game of basketball.'

Aside from having the right personnel, Trakh stresses that this team will learn to play with the passion and drive which fans should come to expect from USC women's basketball. Though it may be a slow process, this team will work to become successful on the court and in the classroom.

'We want to stress that our young women must take care of business off the court,' said Trakh, who graduated 100 percent of his players during his 11 years at Pepperdine. 'We want athletes that want to work hard on the court, and even more importantly, in the classroom. One of their main goals must be to graduate. They have to understand that they are not going to play unless they take care of business academically.'

Everything will be a surprise this season for Trojan fans. After all, the program is heading in a new direction that will hopefully bring the Women of Troy full circle - back to the national stage where stars such as Cheryl Miller, Lisa Leslie, Cynthia Cooper and Tina Thompson shined during their collegiate hoops careers.

'We want to get up and down the floor and we want to play an up-tempo, under control game,' said Trakh when explaining his style of basketball. 'We want to run an offense where athletes are playing together and sharing the basketball, and hopefully getting the open looks. We want balance in our offense and we want to play good, tough person-to-person defense.

'I can assure Trojan fans that you are going to see kids play with passion and intensity and heart. Our players will have fun out on the basketball court. It's going to be contagious and fans are going to want to be a part of that. We won't be able to control everything, but what we can control is how hard we play and how much passion we play with.'

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