By: Chris Bendel – Asst. Sports Editor
Beginning the season ranked No. 14 in the country by the Associated Press’ women’s college basketball poll, expectations were high for the University of Dayton’s women’s basketball team as the regular season opened Saturday, Nov. 9, in Iowa City, Iowa, against the University of California Riverside.
After winning in dominating fashion against Riverside, the Flyers fell to the University of Iowa in overtime 97-93 on Sunday, Nov. 10. The setback dropped the Flyers (1-1) eight spots in the rankings to No. 23 in the most recent AP poll, but external expectations and internal goals for the team remain lofty.
Four starters return from a team that went 14-0 in the A10 last year en route to a regular season conference championship. Those are sophomore guard Amber Deane (9.9 points per game last season), junior forward Ally Malott (10.7 ppg), senior forward Cassie Sant (7.7 ppg) and last year’s leading scorer, junior guard Andrea Hoover (12.9 ppg).
Both Hoover and Malott were preseason first team Atlantic 10 Conference selections, with Deane garnering a spot on the second team.
Head coach Jim Jabir said he has noticed the experience playing out in practices already.
“The older players are telling the younger players, this is how we do things at Dayton,” Jabir said. “We’ve kind of created an identity.”
After a fourth consecutive NCCA tournament berth last year and with four returning starters from a team that went 28-3 overall, talk of success in March surrounds the team from pundits, opposing coaches and Flyer fans alike.
National writers peg the Flyers as a top 25 team. Coaches in the A10 overwhelmingly voted UD as the conference favorite in their preseason poll. Fans of the team have shown their early support by descending on UD arena’s box office as well, as season ticket sales have nearly doubled this year, according to the Dayton Flyers website.
When around one another though, these preseason accolades and numbers hold no weight for Jabir and his team.
While Jabir concedes the rankings provide warranted recognition for the hard work put in by his program, once the regular season began, talk of the Flyers position in the rankings was outlawed – at least within the locker room.
“I told them yesterday that we’re not talking about it ever again,” Jabir said. “I’m much more concerned with how we view ourselves and how we respect ourselves and work together and improve our program.”
Hoover said she agrees with her coach’s thoughts.
“We really don’t pay attention to it,” she said. “I try not to even read articles…we just focus on getting better in practice every day.”
Jabir said the team has set personal goals away of the influence of others outside of the team.
This year, he wants his team to hit its stride in March and to improve on the 7-seed Dayton received in last year’s NCAA tournament.
Hoover explained she has set her goal to make it to the second weekend of the tournament, which would mean reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time in the program’s history.
After a strong offseason, Jabir has also been impressed with the improvement of Deane’s game and noted an improved confidence and aggressiveness out of Malott and Sant.
“Hoover has just been Hoover,” he said, in anticipation of another strong season from his junior guard.
Hoover said she sees sophomore Jodie Cornelie-Sigmundova as having a chance to make a really big contribution to the team, as she has seen more confidence and strength out of the center.
The team lost one starter from last year’s squad, guard Sam MacKay, who was third in the team in scoring and led the team in assists.
During the practices leading up to the season, Jabir said he hoped to test out a committee of players to help replace the production of MacKay, but injuries in the backcourt affected his plans.
Due to junior guard Tiffany Johnson’s back and hamstring issues, and the Achilles problems of freshman guard Celeste Edwards, the two newcomers to the program have been limited in entering in the rotation.
“We’ve not had a consistent rotation and right now we’re just flying by the seat of our pants,” Jabir said. “Hopefully that’s going to straighten itself out.”
Sophomore guard Kelly Austria saw most of the action at point guard during the offseason and played the most minutes out of any player during the first weekend of the season, scoring 17 points in both games.
Thanks to the changes in the enforcement of fouls, especially hand-checking, Jabir said he will also rely on a deep bench to help mitigate the damage of the increased number of fouls called.
“The way that the refs are calling the games now, we need depth… those freshman are going to have to play,” Jabir said.
Dayton’s incoming freshman class is ranked No. 20 in the nation by All-Star Girls Report, according to UD’s website.