Women’s basketball set to start 2002-2003 season

Last season, current seniors Meghan Saake and Alicia Hartlaub watched the 2002 graduating class of the ‘Lady Canes basketball team finish their careers without an NCAA appearance. This season, Saake and Hartlaub want to make sure they do not suffer the same fate.
The Miami Hurricanes enter the 2002-2003 season with nine returning players and a trio of talented freshman who are ready to improve upon last year’s 19-12 record, which resulted in an NIT berth. The ‘Canes won their exhibition opener against the Tournament of Champions last Thursday, and continue to participate in intense practices leading up to next Friday’s season opener against South Florida.
The players could not be happier with the way things have unfolded so far.
“We’ve accomplished some of our smaller goals already,” Saake said. “Practice is going real well and everyone is really determined so it’s looking good.”
The 5-10 Saake, who became the school’s first ever recipient of the Big East Defensive Player of the Year award last season, has steadily improved her offense over the past three years and will probably be the Hurricanes go-to player in the backcourt. Saake averaged 11 points per game last season, and as the ‘Lady Canes starter at shooting guard, the senior from Wellington will look to boost that total, as well as improve on her shooting percentage.
Head Coach Ferne Labati may have penciled in Saake as one of her guards, but the other backcourt position is up for grabs. Junior Hutashi Wilson and sophomore Yalonda McCormick find themselves battling for the starting job for the second year in a row. Wilson was the surprise winner of the job last year and produced an efficient 5.6 points and 2.2 assists per game, while McCormick struggled through freshman woes and some off court troubles. Labati is pleased with the talent of both her point guards, but would like to see more production.
“They are playing very hard and really working hard to be succesful,” Labati said. “At the top of the Big East, you need great point guards and both of them are working hard to reach that level and we are working with them to improve their game.”
In the frontcourt, leading scorer and second-team All Big East member Chanivia Broussard returns to the power forward position for Miami. Broussard averaged 14.2 points per game, and although her play was inconsistent at times, the 6-0 junior is clearly the Hurricanes most talented player on the court. Fellow senior Alicia Hartlaub will get significant time here as well, and expect the 6-2 forward to find her name in the starting lineup against bigger opponents.
Out of the three freshman, one is already making a significant impact. South Florida native Tamara James was one of the state’s best prospects entering this year and her skill has been rewarded with the small forward spot for the time being. James made a big impact in the 84-79 exhibition victory, scoring 14 points, and has shown a good attitude both on and off the court
“Anything the coaches needs me to do, I’m going to do it,” James said. “Everyone wants to start but if I don’t start then I’m not going to get upset about it.”
The Hurricanes biggest weakness will be their lack of size. Junior Shaquana Wilkins, who stands 6-2, serves as Miami’s starting center and their biggest player. Wilkins, who posted 8.7 points and six rebounds per contest last year, is certainly a capable presence inside. However, the Hurricanes have already worked on increasing the tempo of their play to compensate for the lack of size, as well as to have an opportunity to increase their point total.
“We want to score more points and you aren’t going to do that without pushing the ball up court. We would like to be able to run but we need a lot of players and the team is going to determine how many players we will use off the bench.”
In addition to James, fellow freshmen Tatjana Marincic and Katie Hayek add depth to the squad. Marincic, as 6-2, adds a big small forward off the bench, while the 5-9 Hayek serves as a long-range specialist and an excellent free throw shooter. Although the duo certainly exhibits offensive skills, Labati says their services will be needed in other aspects this season.
“Tatiana and Katie are two kids that come from programs that are very offensive-minded,” Labati said. “They are going to have to come down and play a lot of defense and work on that for us to get better.”
The Hurricanes have the talent to become an NCAA contender, but once again a grueling schedule awaits the team. Miami faces non-conference challenges against Florida, FIU, and Texas A&M before reaching the heart of the Big East schedule, which includes a date with NCAA Champion Connecticut.
“Everyone is back in the Big East,” Labati said. “Connecticut is the one team that lost a lot of players but they went back and reloaded. There is going to be a lot of parody in the Big East and a lot of six to eight point games.”
The team makes no effort to hide the longing for an invitation to the NCAA Tournament, something that has not happened since 1998. Although there are a lot of separate goals, the Hurricanes were disappointed with last year’s finish and will likely be even more disappointed if the same happens again this time around. Labati says the production of the upperclassmen will be a key factor.
“We have a lot of upperclassmen on the team. Our juniors and seniors are going to have to step up in order for us to be succesful in conference and non-conference play.”
At least one of those upperclassmen certainly does not need any extra motivation from the coaching staff, as she has gone through disappointment for the past three years.
“It’s something I’ve thought about every year [not going to the NCAA Tournament] but this year it would be real special,” Saake said. “It’s one of our main goals but we’re going to take it one at a time.”
You can reach Jeremy Marks-Peltz at jmp310@hotmail.com.