As the Texas women’s basketball players and coaches fielded questions during the team’s first press conference on Tuesday, there seemed to be a reoccurring theme: coping.
Despite being knocked out of the first round of the NCAA tournament by San Diego State last March, Texas coach Gail Goestenkors had high hopes for her team in the off-season. However, a season-ending injury to post player Cokie Reed left a Texas-sized hole in the lineup. So in a Big 12 conference that seems to be getting bigger and stronger, Goestenkors acknowledges that the team is shuffling to make up for the loss.
“We know Cokie, she was in great shape, in much better shape than she was in her entire freshman year,” Goestenkors said. “We were going to be a power team. Now we have got to change what we were planning to do, and do what is best for these young ladies to be successful.”
The scrambling process obviously includes finding players to fill the post position. Reed was supposed to split minutes with Ashley Gayle, a 6-foot-4-inch junior from Las Vegas. Goestenkors was also expecting Kristen Nash to return for a fifth year, who’s size would have also helped. Now Goestenkors has to rely on heavy minutes from Gayle as well as untested freshman Anne Marie Hartung.
Despite the lack of depth, Goestenkors is not discouraged, and feels both Gayle and Hartung will be options in the Longhorns’ new run-and-gun style of play.
“Anne Marie is going to learn and grow into the position,” she said. “She will play significant minutes.”
Another part of the coping process for this team goes beyond dealing with the loss of pivotal players. The second step is coping with the rigors of the Big 12 with a small, young team.
Hartung is among five freshmen on this year’s squad. And with more than half the team being underclassmen, questions remain over whether Texas can make a splash in the Big 12.
Senior Kathleen Nash will take on an even larger role in the offense this year, as she expects to shuffle through every position on the court during games.
“I might have to play one through five [positions] a lot more,” Nash said. “I’ll need to expand my game, to be able to post and handle the ball more.”
Nash’s expanded role is a part of the Longhorn’s new emphasis on playing up-tempo. The team has been working on extra conditioning drills to keep in shape.
“We are just running more,” Nash said. “If we aren’t running, we are scrimmaging. We have more minutes at the end of practice where we do conditioning, so we know we will always do that on top of everything else. But we know it’s necessary.”
The development of the team’s freshmen is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dreary off-season.
Freshman guard Tiffany Moore is expected to play significant minutes once she recovers from a hand injury suffered during practice. She said the pressure of playing for a big-time program is nothing new to her and her young teammates.
“I don’t really believe there is any [pressure] at all,” Moore said. “We all work hard, so we are kind of used to and immune to it by now. Coach G wants players who play hard, work hard and give time in the gym, so there really is no pressure at all as a freshman.”
Of course, part of fighting the pressure off is to build a strong sense of camaraderie.
Moore was excited to spill all about her teammate’s habits, quirks and even nicknames.
“I think [Chassidy Fussell] is bionic ... She lifts like thousands of pounds,” Moore joked. “A.M. [Hartung] is nice off the court, but on the court she is scary, she’s ferocious.”