The Bulls finished the 2016 season with a 24-10 record (14-4) and finished second in the AAC standings (behind Uconn). It was a great season, but as the team prepares for a new year, Coach Jose Fernandez’s roster has a new look to it and a few question marks surrounding it.
The Bulls enter the 2016 coming off of their second straight NCAA bid and Coach Fernandez has done a lot to turn this program into a power. With that said, USF enters the 2016 season picked third in the AAC and will have to do it with a new look roster after two big time players left at the end of last season.
USF will have to replace two big time players that left their mark in the program records, Courtney Williams and Alisia Jenkins. When you have to replace the second all time leading scorer in program history and the all time leading rebounder, its a tough task for anyone. USF averaged 72 points per game and typically dominated its games, but now they do not have that kind of guaranteed returning firepower this season. We no longer have Williams dropping 20+ points a game, instead, the team will have to rely on returning veterans and a young group of new players to replace that kind of production and that is asking for a lot.
The returning roster is loaded with talent, but it is a bit injured with junior forward Laura Ferreira who has a plantar fascia issue with her foot. The injury is severe enough that it could force Ferreira to take a redshirt this year. This is bad considering she averaged 9.6 points per game last year and could stretch defenses with her ability to hit from 3-point range. Even with that in mind, the roster is still loaded with returning and incoming talent.
Leading the returning players is sophomore Kitija Laksa who was named pre-season first team all AAC after taking home rookie of the year honors last year. Laksa averaged 12.6 points per game last year (was 74 for 176 from 3-point range) and averaged 2.3 rebounds per game. Laksa will be the go-to scoring option this year along with several other veterans like junior forward Maria Jespersen (averaged 5.9 PPG and 4.5 RPG) and returning junior point guard Laia Flores.
The freshman class brings a lot of needed talent to the roster this year as well. Freshman forward Dorottya Nagy comes from all the way from Hungary and joins a roster loaded with international talent. Joining her are Nachalie DeJesus, Shae Leverett, Tamara Henshaw, and Enna Pehadzic (from Denmark). All of the newcomers will have to learn fast and be ready to contribute on day one because the Bulls will need the depth off the bench as the year goes on.
So, what should we expect from the Bulls this year? Well, more winning as always because Coach Fernandez and company do this every year. With that said though, I do think they take a slight step back. They will still be at the top of the AAC standings, will still dominate opponents, but I could see some growing pains with the young freshmen getting accustomed to the collegiate game. This group should be competing for an NCAA bid once again if they come together and take care of business.
by Matt Staton
SoFloBulls.com Columnist | @USFMatt
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