To prevent another underachieving season, University of Miami women’s basketball head coach Ferne Labati has recruited several talented freshmen that will be thrown into this year’s mix.
The Hurricanes are coming off a 13-15 record and an eighth place finish in the Big East. Miami returns four starters and nine players from last season, and the addition of five newcomers will give the team some much needed depth as well as more talent.
The go-to player will once again be sophomore Chanivia Broussard. The 6-0 power forward took the Big East by storm last year, averaging 13.2 points while blocking 32 shots and recording 46 steals. With only a few proven scorers in the lineup, Broussard knows there will be pressure on her to improve, but is confident that she will get the job done.
“I feel there is a lot of pressure on myself,” Broussard said. “I have to just step up and try and help my team more this year so that we can depend on each other.”
Assisting Broussard out in the front court is defensive specialist Meghan Saake. The 5-10 junior will make the transition over to small forward, and hopes to improve upon her 6.6 points per game average. Helping Saake out on the offensive end, will be the addition of 5-11 freshman Melissa Knight, who Labati says has the potential to be dangerous in many ways.
“Melissa Knight is a terrific player,” Labati said. “She shoots the ball extremely well, drives to the basket and is going to be a great player for us.”
Junior Alicia Hartlaub, who saw a majority of her action at power forward, will occupy the middle this season. Hartlaub is one of the Hurricanes’ best all-around players, and in the preseason has shown an ability to score from the perimeter as well as in the paint. Hartlaub is not concerned about making the transition to center.
“The four and five on our team is very interchangeable,” Hartlaub said. “We play a lot of help defensive so the four and five will help each other out there and we’ll get the job done.”
The biggest change for the Hurricanes will come at the point. Freshman sensation Yalonda McCormick has the potential not only to become Miami’s starting point guard, but possibly its most explosive player as well. Hutashi Wilson, a 5-6 sophomore, will also get ample time at the point, and brings college basketball experience that McCormick lacks.
“We’re working very hard with both Wilson and McCormick right now,” Labati said. “Both of them are learning the position and for the first game, we went with Wilson because she had a lot more experience.”
Senior Sheila James, widely regarded as Miami’s best overall player, moves over to shooting guard this year. James has recovered nicely from injuries that have plagued her since the end of last season, and looks to improve upon her 10.4 points per game average.
James will also look to benefit from more shooting opportunities, but doesn’t see a drastic transformation in her game.
“I’ll definitely be helping the point guard out and I’ll be pretty much playing mostly the same type of game, just not handling the ball as much,” James said.
The additions of Knight and McCormick single-handedly improve Miami’s bench. In addition, the Hurricanes have returnees Shaquana Wilkins, Martha Bodley, and Amanda Papuga to depend on, as well as freshman Lonnie Whigham, who is expected to make a full recovery from her torn ACL by December.
The Hurricanes may have a lot of talent and depth, but also face the daunting task of another deadly schedule. Miami begins their home schedule Sunday against Iona and Northwestern next Wednesday.
The rest of their games at the Knight Sports Complex includes Big East foes Rutgers and defending NCAA champion Notre Dame, and non-conference opponents Texas and Minnesota.
Miami faces preseason No. 1 Connecticut and non-conference opponent Kentucky on the road.
“The Big East conference is the lone conference of winning back to back national championships so the competition is outstanding,” Labati said.
Despite the stiff competition, Labati is confident in her team and believes that once everyone is accustomed to playing with each other, the Hurricanes will be dangerous.
“We’re looking forward to a great year,” Labati said. “We want to run and push the ball up for more fast break opportunities and also cut down on our assist-turnover ratio, which really hurt us last season.”