A collection of Atlantic 10 championship trophies stand tall in the lobby of the Dayton Flyers women’s basketball coaches offices at UD’s Cronin Center. Coach Shauna Green would like to make room for more.
One year after Green took the reins of the program in September after the unexpected resignation of Jim Jabir weeks before the start of preseason practice, she finds herself in a much better position to get this season started. Of course, even with a late start in 2016, she and the Flyers excelled, clinching a share of the A-10 regular-season title in the season finale at UD Arena and then winning the A-10 tournament to earn a berth in the NCAA tournament.
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The Flyers held their first official practice Sunday. They play an exhibition game against Findlay on Nov. 4 and then open the season Nov. 10 against Harvard in the University of Maine’s Tip-Off Tournament.
“I like where we’re at as a team,” Green said Friday. “Sitting here last year at this time, it was crazy. What a year.”
The Flyers graduated leading scorer Kelley Austria (12.2 points per game) and third-leading scorer Saicha Grant-Allen (9.9). The top returning scorers are guards Jenna Burdette (12.0), JaVonna Layfield (8.3), Lauren Cannatelli (7.3) and Jayla Scaife (6.1) and forward Alex Harris (5.9).
Burdette enters her senior season with 857 career points, putting her in reach of becoming the 25th player in school history to score 1,000 points.
“It’s her senior year,” Green said. “We expect her to just continue to improve. We’re working on her mid-range shot and being a little more fluid with that. We’ll probably need her to score a little more this year. She’s a scorer anyway, but I really want her to have that mind-set.”
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Green wants Burdette to say, “I can go get that,” if the team needs a basket. Last season, she may deferred to Austria in that situation. Green also wants Burdette to take on a bigger leadership role.
“She’s never going to be the most outspoken person, yelling and going crazy,” Green said. “That’s not her. I don’t want her to be someone she’s not. I say, ‘Just do it your way. You know what it takes. You’ve been through the good and the bad here and the Elite Eight and last year winning two championships. We need you to set the tone for the rest of the crew.’ They all respect her.”
Layfield, who almost doubled her scoring average from her sophomore (4.8) to junior seasons, will be another key to the team’s success.
“She’s shooting it really well right now,” Green said. “The thing about J is she’s such an energy player. She did so many things on the stat sheet. She had to be on the floor. Not having Kelly here, from a defensive perspective, J’s going to have to be that go-to, defensive, lock-down player, and she’s fully capable of it.”
Scaife could be the team’s most improved player this season. She made the A-10 all-rookie team last season as a freshman.
“You saw glimpses of it last year, and she had some huge games,” Green said. “She won us games. She has this consistency now. We’re trying to preach consistency. We say, ‘every-day women, every day bringing it.’ Her shot’s looking good. But the biggest thing is just her approach on a daily basis and her intensity and focus.”
Dayton’s 2017-18 roster is unique in that it has no freshmen. The newcomers are all transfers. Guard Araion Bradshaw (South Carolina) and forward Julia Chandler (Syracuse) can practice with the team but will sit out the season as transfers.
Guard Brittany Ward (Butler) will be eligible to play in January after transferring to UD last January. Guard Tiaera Phillips (Chipola College) can play right away. Guard Shakeela Fowler (Trinity Valley Community College) tore her ACL in practice several weeks ago and will miss the season.
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One of the the returners, sophomore guard Jenna Giacone, suffered a foot injury in August and underwent surgery. Green expects her to return in late October and hopes she’ll be ready for the season.
In offseason workouts and in the preseason training the NCAA allows before the start of official practice, Dayton focused on individual skill sessions and improving fundamentals. With practice beginning, the work of learning the offensive and defensive system begins.
“There certain things we do every day,” Green said. “There are certain drills we do to start every day. But we’ll just have way more time to expand. We’ll really dive into our offense. In terms of plays, we’ve really done nothing except our fast break. It was all fundamentals, passing, dribbling and shooting and then Phoenix, our fast break.”