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2006-07 USF Women's Basketball Preview

Nov. 3, 2006

When the University of San Francisco introduced Tanya Haave as the head coach for the women's basketball program it signaled the end of one era and the beginning of another. Haave takes over the controls of a program guided by USF Legend and Hall-of-Famer Mary Hile-Nepfel for 19 seasons, who departs the Hilltop as the winningest coach in USF basketball history (men and women) with 270 career victories.

A Tennessee Lady Vol Hall-of-Famer and a highly experienced player and coach, Haave inherits a program which has made four postseason appearances since 1995, including the NCAA Sweet-16 in 1996. The Dons last qualified for the postseason in 2002 with a WNIT berth.

THE HAAVE WAY Haave departed Knoxville as the top scorer in Tennessee women's basketball history with 1,771 career points playing for basketball legend Pat Summitt. As one might expect, Haave prefers a high octane offensive system favoring a quick pace to maximize the stress on opposing defenses.

"I'm going to want to push the tempo and I think we can do that with pressure defense," Haave said. "We're going to push the ball, run as much as we can with limited turnovers. It's fun for the players, fun for the coaches and fun for the fans. The most important thing for us to have in the half-court set is balance - inside-outside. If you have four or five players who are scoring threats, it's much harder to guard and puts pressure on defenses."

A high-energy offensive philosophy is certainly not a foreign concept to any of her assistant coaches. Top assistant coach Abby Conklin also played at Tennessee and ranks in the career top-10 in 3-point field goals and long range accuracy for the Lady Vols, while first year assistant coach Shanele Stires was a prolific scorer during her All-American career at Kansas State. Marta Menuez benefited from a similar style of play during her career at WCC rival San Diego, leaving as the school's second-leading scorer.

Nickie Warren was the Dons leading rebounder last season

FINISHING STRONGOne of the oldest sports cliches states it's not how you start, but how you finish and last season the Dons finished the season on a positive note. USF entered the 2006 WCC Tournament in Spokane winning just two of their last 10 games to close the regular season. Entering the postseason classic as the No. 7 seed, USF squared off against tournament host and WCC regular season co-champion Gonzaga on its home court and shocked the Bulldogs 75-67 in front of 1,572 at the McCarthey Center behind 21 points and six rebounds from Dominique Carter.

Two days later against WCC regular season co-champion and ancient Bay Area rival Santa Clara, San Francisco came within four seconds in regulation from advancing to the program's first WCC Finals appearance since 1997, when the Dons captured their third consecutive tournament title and subsequent NCAA postseason berth. Although USF fell short in overtime, the positive experiences gained during its modest tournament run could plant the seeds for success in 2006-07.

DONS GET CARTER Haave welcomes a talented core of returning players back into the fold headlined by junior guard Dominique Carter. One of the league's dominant players since her arrival on the Hilltop, Carter captured All-WCC First Team selection last season for the second straight year, becoming the first Dons underclassmen to do so since USF Hall-of-Famer Brittany Lindhe - the only four-time all-league pick in conference history - accomplished the feat in 1995-96.

Senior forward Nickie Warren enjoyed a solid Dons debut in 2005-06 after transferring to USF after two seasons at Boston College. Warren earned a pair of all-tournament selections, led USF in rebounding and looks to end her collegiate career on a high note. Junior guard Nykia Peace enjoyed the best season of her career, establishing highs in virtually every offensive and defensive category and looks to continue her emergence this year.

Sophomore guard Shay Rollins showed flashes of brilliance as the lone frosh on the Dons roster, earning WCC All-Freshman Team honors. Rollins ranked second among WCC leaders during league games in assist/turnover ratio and looks for a breakout season.

"This is a group that finished strong last season," Haave said. "Beating Gonzaga, the co-champion on their home floor and taking the other co-champion Santa Clara to overtime is a credit to the players returning. With Dominique, Nykia, Shay and Nickie you've got a core group with a lot of talent and they were able to get a lot of experience playing together. They got a taste of success last season and want more this year."

Shay Rollins earned WCC All-Freshman Team honors last season

ATTACK OF THE GYM RATS After fielding a roster with just three newcomers and only one true freshman last season, the Dons welcome four first year players for 2006-07. Three of the four incoming freshmen earned a total of five all-state first team selections, seven league player of the year honors and three McDonald's All-America nominations.

Freshman forward Ashley Guerra (San Jose, CA) comes to the Hilltop after four standout seasons at perennial Bay Area prep power Archbishop Mitty. Guerra averaged 10.3 points and 7.0 rebounds per game for the Monarchs as a senior and gives the Dons a versatile athlete on the wing. Freshman guard Heidi Heintz (Spokane, WA) was a two-time All-Greater Spokane League selection at Central Valley and will bolster the Dons backcourt.

Freshman guard Katie Mihalco (Englewood, CO) capped her outstanding prep career with a McDonald's All-America nomination after averaging 13.7 points, 4.1 assists and 3.1 steals as a senior at Regis Jesuit. Mihalco captured a pair of all-state first team honors and propelled the Raiders deep into the 4A tournament. Another freshman guard to earn a McDonald's All-America nomination was Randi Richardson (Arlington, WA). A highly decorated player, Richardson captured three first team all-state selections and was named Everett Herald's Player of the Year after averaging 18.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 4.0 steals as a senior at Arlington High School.

"The passion and love for the game that this group shows has energized all the players and coaches," Haave said. "Randi and Katie are really dynamic with great shooting and passing skills at the guard spots, while Heidi is a rock solid defender with an outstanding work ethic. Ashley comes from one of the strongest prep programs in the Bay Area and is extremely versatile. They all love to play and bring great energy and enthusiasm to the floor."

"I'm going to want to push the tempo and I think we can do that with pressure defense. We're going to push the ball, run as much as we can with limited turnovers. It's fun for the players, fun for the coaches and fun for the fans."
Tanya Haave, USF head coach

ON THE PERIMETER Carter enters her junior season as the league's top returning scorer for the second straight year and headlines what figures to be an explosive Dons backcourt. After reaching double-digit scoring 40 times in 56 career games, Carter enters the 2006-07 season needing 185 points to become the first junior since Carey Sauer to crack 1,000 career points in program history. Although Carter will be counted on to do much of the heavy lifting offensively, she has drawn glowing reviews with her improved defense during the preseason.

Peace looks forward to her second season as a starter and more than doubled her scoring and rebounding output as a sophomore. A versatile athlete, Peace owns the best assist/turnover ratio on the team and dramatically improved her distributing and decision making skills.

Rollins made 21 starts during her first season on the Hilltop and showed signs of developing into a solid floor general for San Francisco. The team's leading 3-point shooter last season also paced USF in assists, becoming the first freshman to accomplish the task since former Dons standout Toni Russell did so during her WCC Freshman of the Year campaign in 2002.

Mihalco and Richardson also figure prominently in the perimeter mix and will push for playing time immediately on a team which figures to feature a smaller lineup. Heintz, junior Amber Grier and freshman Leslie Walker will also add depth at all perimeter spots.

"With the quality of our returning players, the perimeter is going to be a strength for us," Haave said. "I am counting on them to be the start of our defense, by putting consistent pressure on the ball and then turning it into points on the fast break. They are going to be our go-to players offensively."

DONS ON THE DOWN LOW With only five players over 6-0 tall, Haave expects to play a lot of "Small Ball" this season, but the Dons have some talent on the low block. Warren headlines the post group, while junior center Lisa Olden, who enjoyed a strong night against Oklahoma All-American center Courtney Paris, looks for consistency this season. Senior center KeLicia Shorts joined the basketball team in time for league play after finishing a stellar four-year career for the Dons volleyball squad. Shorts emerged as an outstanding rebounder and shot blocker and looks to continue that trend this season.

Senior center Breann Sitton is the tallest Don at 6-4 and looks to cap off her collegiate career on a high note in her third year on the Hilltop. Junior center Kasia Kurzatkowska (Olsztyn, Poland) looks forward to competing for the Green and Gold after missing all of last season with a knee injury. Guerra is also expected to immediately challenge for time at the power forward spot.

"Our goal for the post players is to develop consistency at both ends of the floor," Haave said. "This group has the tools necessary to get it done and now must find a way to do so for 40 minutes at a time."

ODWALLA CLASSIC HIGHLIGHTS TOUGH NON-CONFERENCE SLATE USF plays a total of nine games against seven teams that advanced to the postseason last year. The Dons open the 31st season of women's basketball with a two-game road trip at Colorado, where Haave spent four years as an assistant, and at Wyoming, which advanced to the second round of the 2006 WNIT. San Francisco hosts Colorado State in its home opener Friday, November 17. After taking on emerging ACC power Miami, a 2006 NCAA Tournament team, the Dons prepare to host the fourth annual odwalla Classic November 24-25.

San Francisco takes on Southern Illinois in the second game the day after Thanksgiving, while rising SEC powerhouse Kentucky, which advanced to the second round of the NCAA's in 2006, takes on WNIT qualifier Delaware in the opening contest. The Wildcats make their second appearance in the event, falling to USF in the 2003 title game.

"We are very excited about the odwalla Classic," Haave said. "We have a strong field with two postseason teams coming in and we look forward to a great weekend of basketball. Our entire non-conference schedule is very demanding and will pose a big test for us."

USF closes out 2006 with six of its eight games on the road. The Dons travel to Bay Area rival San Jose State (11/29), Cal Poly (12/2), 2006 WNIT team Fresno State (12/16) and Cal State Fullerton (12/18). San Francisco hosts Boise State (12/10) and plays its final home game before New Year's when it welcomes another 2006 NCAA tournament qualifier Florida State (12/20). Following the Christmas break, the Dons travel to Hawaii to compete in the Hawaii Invitational December 29-30. USF squares off against the host Wahine in the opener in a field also featuring Oklahoma State and Columbia. Once San Francisco returns from the Islands, its plays the final non-conference game of the regular season when it hosts Nevada January 2 in the final tune-up prior to WCC action.

THE WEST COAST CONFERENCE Last year featured plenty of surprises in an unpredictable conference race capped by No. 4 seed Pepperdine winning the WCC Tournament and advancing to the NCAA's. Without a clear favorite, the race for the conference title figures to be wide open once again in 2006-07, the 22nd WCC campaign. USF begins the journey for the conference hardware when it travels to San Diego for a showdown against the Toreros Sunday, January 7 at the Jenny Craig Pavilion.

"We will have our hands full in WCC play this season. There are no easy games during league play and we must capitalize on our experience during our non-conference schedule," Haave said.

CLOSING THOUGHTSWith a new head coach ready to energize a team with a talented group of returners and some dynamic newcomers, San Francisco looks to challenge in the WCC. After experiencing a glimpse of what lies ahead after eliminating Gonzaga in the opening round of the WCC Tournament, the Dons look to make the most of their opportunities in what promises to be an exciting year of basketball on the Hilltop.