The Dayton Flyers who take the court when the 2018-19 women’s basketball season begins in November will look much different than the team that jogged off the court, waving to their fans in appreciation, after an 84-65 loss to Marquette on Friday in Louisville, Ky.
Dayton’s second straight first-round exit in the NCAA tournament ended the careers of three senior starters: Jenna Burdette, JaVonna Layfield and Alex Harris. Coach Shauna Green said they can leave “with their heads high in what they’ve done for Dayton basketball.” The returning group has enough talent to keep Dayton on top of the Atlantic 10 Conference and in the hunt for a ninth NCAA berth in 10 years.
“I’m excited about having some new pieces and some different pieces, and we’ll be able to do some different things,” said Green on Friday after the game outside the locker room at the KFC Yum! Center. “For everyone who’s going to watch us, we’re not going to be the same, and I think it’s going to take us a little bit of time to come into our own, so people need to be patient and we need to be patient because it’s not just going to come together. Even an experienced team like this year, it took us a while to get into a groove and find our identity.”
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Burdette, Layfield and Harris combined to average 35.8 points per game, 48.8 percent of the team’s scoring average (73.3). Dayton returns its second-leading scorer, sophomore forward Jayla Scaife (14.5), and third-leading scorer and top 3-point shooter, junior Lauren Cannatelli (13.3). Sophomore Jordan Wilmoth (5.5) will be a candidate to move into the starting lineup.
Junior forward Maddy Dennis, sophomore guard Brittany Ward and junior guard Tiaera Phillips should play bigger roles next season.
“The thing I like about them is they have a demeanor about them,” Green said. “They’re used to winning. They’re used to competing for championships. That’s really important. They have that killer instinct about them that I love.”
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Three freshmen join the program as well: Kyla Whitehead, a 6-foot-2 forward from Pickerington Central, which advanced to the Division I state championship game with a win Friday against Mason; Ella Skeens, a 5-11 forward from Chillicothe Southeastern who scored 2,283 points in her career; and Amari Davidson, a 6-2 forward from Avon High School.
“We’re going to need them,” Green said of the freshmen. “They’re going to have to come in and get some minutes.”
The Flyers will also benefit from having a healthy Shakeela Fowler. The junior guard missed the season with a torn ACL. She’s has not yet been cleared for full-contact practices but is ahead of schedule in her recovery, Green said. Sophomore guard Jenna Giacone is another player who didn’t play this year after suffering a foot injury last summer.
All the additions and returns will give Green a deeper bench than she had this year. The Flyers had an eight-player rotation, and often some starters played all 40 minutes in games. That may have played a part in Dayton’s performance Friday.
Green thought her players were worn down at the end of the season.
“The last couple games, I don’t know if it’s fatigue or what,” Green said, “but we just didn’t have that spark to us that you saw for 17 games.”
The lack of a backup point guard hurt, too, because Cannatelli had to play out of position when the starting point guard, Burdette, picked up her second foul in the first quarter.
“I think you saw that our depth today was just a major, major factor,” Green said.