By: Steve Boltri – Staff Writer
The Dayton women’s basketball team ended its season earlier than it would have liked with a loss to Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Despite its disappointing ending, this past season was excellent for the Flyers.
Not only did they exceed expectations with rookie coach Shauna Green at the helm, but their play gave us a glimpse of the raw talent and team chemistry that has potential to lead them to success in the coming years.
Dayton will be graduating four seniors in May, including 6-foot-5 center Saicha Grant-Allen, and guard Kelly Austria, arguably their best player over the past couple years, both of whom were integral parts of the team’s recent success. However, the future looks bright with the likes of junior Jenna Burdette and freshman Jayla Scaife, among others, coming through the ranks.
Burdette has already been a regular, starting at guard for the Flyers, and the expectation is that she will step up and play a bigger role for the team next season, especially without fellow guard Kelly Austria on the court with her.
Burdette said, “Our seniors did a really good job of leading us this year, as well as helping me to understand what I need to do next year. I need to be more vocal and lead by example, not just by saying the right things, but also by doing the right things.”
Green also commented on the new role that Burdette will be playing for the team next year, “She’s going to have an added leadership role. She’s our point guard and a huge key to us and she’s really going to have to step up from a leadership standpoint, and we’ll continue to develop her. And also as a player we’re going to ask her to score; she [will] have to do a lot, and she knows that, and that’s the type of kid she is. She wants that. We’re going to need her on all ends to be playing at her best next year.”
We shouldn’t be too quick to think that Burdette is simply going to replace Austria, or that a new recruit will just replace Grant-Allen and be the same as her.
Green articulated that that just isn’t how basketball works, “Every year is different. You don’t just replace [players]. Saicha being 6’4” and super athletic and what she developed into as a senior; you don’t just replace that. We don’t have anyone coming in that’s her size, but we’ll adjust. People will have different roles.”
Three starters from this year’s team will be coming back next year, but that still leaves two big holes to fill, and Burdette simply can’t do it all on her own. Thankfully the younger talent has a lot of potential to step up and play some new or different roles that Green alluded to.
Burdette spoke about the younger talent, but was reluctant to name anyone specifically. Instead she said, “Our freshman this year were really good and look really promising.”
One of those freshmen is Jayla Scaife. Although not a starter this year, she saw a decent amount of playing time and showed talent, confidence, and potential.
In an interview with Flyer News, when asked if she expects to take on a bigger role in the coming season, she said, “I know a couple of times coach said she would like me to take on a different role or bigger role for next year, but she wants all the freshman to take a bigger role. We all kind of have to step it up.”
The moral of the story is that “like-for-like” replacements just don’t exist in basketball. Each player is different from the next and can bring her own set of skills to the court to benefit the team, usually in a different way than her predecessor.
Success next season won’t come from Dayton recruiting a new Saicha Grant-Allen and another Kelly Austria. It won’t come from current players trying to be Austria or Grant-Allen.
Success will be built on team chemistry, which will stem from players working with Green and each other to branch out of their comfort zones and take on new roles that will most benefit the team.
The offseason will be filled with growth and learning, but that does not mean that next season will be a rebuilding year. Rather, it will be a year of regrouping to take this year’s success even further.
Photo by Christian Cubacub/Multimedia Editor