By: Chris Bendel – Staff Writer
The 2015-2016 Dayton women’s basketball team faces the task of reloading instead of merely rebuilding. After the season-ending loss to the eventual national champion, the Connecticut Huskies, in the Elite Eight of the 2015 NCAA Tournament, the Flyers lost seniors and leading-scorers, guard Andrea Hoover and forward Ally Malott.
The two seniors led the team to a 28-7 overall record and a 14-2 record in Atlantic 10 play last season. Production-wise, the departures leave a large gap to be filled – the team loses 43 percent of total scoring, 34 percent of total rebounding and 54.8 percent of total 3-point field goals made.
To fill the production gap, the team will rely on an up-tempo offense and contributions from a lineup that can play with length or choose to play with four guards. It’s this type of versatility that can help mitigate the loss of the two seniors from last season.
“A lot of teams last year took it as if we stopped Ally [Malott] or [Andrea] Hoover or one of them they could win the game whereas this year we’re all going to have to step up,” senior guard Amber Deane said. “That could make it harder to defend if we have five players looking to score.”
The Washington Mystics selected Malott eighth overall in the 2015 WNBA draft, and Hoover was drafted with the 31st overall pick by the Los Angeles Sparks. Both were the first WNBA draft picks in the history of the Dayton women’s basketball program.
Head coach Jim Jabir views the departures through the lens of a 28-year, head-coaching career, a perspective that guides the team through the natural turnover of any college basketball program.
“I don’t think it’s any different,” he said. “We just have to find a different way to win… You have new kids now and other players have stepped up. The reality is you learn to play a different way.”
With the pair’s graduation, the narrative of the program shifts. That doesn’t mean the trajectory of the program must, however. It may just take a new form. Atlantic 10 coaches anticipate more of a reloading than rebuilding by selecting the team second in the preseason coaches poll.
“Every year is different,” Jabir said. “I know a lot of people are concerned about our graduation losses but I don’t think twice about them… with the group we have people thought enough about us to pick us second in the league.”
The Flyers return three seniors including third-leading scorer Deane, who was selected by league coaches for the Preseason All-Conference First Team. Deane averaged 10.5 points per game while shooting 47.3 percent from the field last season.
Also returning is senior guard Kelley Austria, who earned a spot on the Preseason All-Conference Second Team. As one of the veteran guards on the team, Jabir and the coaching staff will look to Austria, who averaged 9.9 points per game last season, to take a firm hold on the Flyer offense.
The coaching staff will also rely on Austria’s ability to attack the basket in order to make up for some lost production, something that she is not all too familiar with.
“It’s been hard because I’m not used to it,” Austria said about the need for her to look to score more than she has in the past.
“I know coach wants me to be more aggressive in practice so it will transfer over in games,” she said.
Senior center Jodie Cornelie-Sigmundova, who was selected for the Preseason All-Conference Third Team, averaged 6.1 rebounds per game and led the team in blocks with 93. She accounted for nearly 50 percent of UD’s total blocks last season and returns to anchor the UD frontcourt and defensive unit.
Rounding out the starting unit, junior center Saicha Grant-Allen returns after averaging five rebounds along with 6.3 points per game, and sophomore point guard Jenna Burdette also returns after averaging 23.3 minutes per game last season.
Jabir anticipates Burdette to continue to make strides in the development of her game, evident in the recent Red-Blue Scrimmage, when she led all scorers with 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the field and a perfect 5-of-5 from the free-throw line.
“It’s my job to make sure [Jenna Burdette] keeps playing like that, keeps elevating her game because I feel likes she’s very capable of being a great player,” Jabir said.
She will most likely shoulder some of the scoring load with Deane in the Flyer backcourt after the loss of Hoover.
In conference, UD will likely compete with a familiar foe at the top of the league standings.
League coaches selected George Washington as the league favorite in the preseason coaches poll. The No. 21 ranked Colonials, led by 2015 A-10 Player of the Year senior forward Jonquel Jones, garnered 12 of 14 first-place votes and are the reigning A-10 conference champions.
In all three matchups during the 2014-2015 season including the Atlantic 10 conference tournament final, the Colonials beat the Flyers, handing the team its only three losses in conference all season.
The Flyers face George Washington Sunday, Jan. 10 at UD Arena in the first matchup between the preseason league favorites and meet again with possible conference championship implications Feb. 14 in Washington, D.C.
ESPNU will televise the latter, one of the six nationally televised games on Dayton’s schedule.
Though selected second in the league, after the success in the NCAA tournament last season, the Flyers understand they will get the opposing team’s best game every night, especially in conference.
“We’re going to get everyone’s best game so that’s going to be tough,” Austria said.
The team hosts Yale for the season-opener, set for Friday, Nov. 13. The game will tip off at 11 a.m.
Conference play will begin Jan. 3 against Duquesne in Pittsburgh and will be televised on the CBS Sports Network.
Graphic by Art Director Kelsey Mills. Photo of red squad huddling at the Red-Blue Scrimmage by Multimedia Editor Chris Santucci.