SANTA CLARA, Calif. - New NCAA legislation has
allowed the Santa Clara University women's basketball team to begin
practice earlier this fall and the Broncos have taken advantage of
the extended time. SCU initiated their preseason practice schedule
this week, well over a month prior to opening the season against
Fresno State on November 12.
Under a new NCAA rule for 2010-11, teams can begin practice 40 days before their first game. They still are allowed only 30 practices - the same number they were allotted under the old system.
"The fact that we can get on the floor to implement our offense earlier will be huge for us," says Santa Clara head coach Jennifer Mountain. "Not only do we have more time to practice but we also have more down time, allowing your body to rest with the added days off."
Mountain – who begins her third year at SCU - is armed with the deepest team she's had since taking over the program in 2008. She's added four newcomers from Bay Area high schools to complement a deep sophomore class and three returning starters. The young group should benefit from the extended preseason camp.
"It allows us to do more team-oriented things earlier. It changed our focus during our individual workouts, because of the quarter system we only had two weeks," said Mountain. "Now we are able to do some more big picture things, implement some changes. Were putting some more creativity into our half-court offense."
"We have more weapons, we're quicker then we've been in the past and more athletic, so we should be able to run a little bit more as well."
The team brings back three returning starters: senior power forward Lena Gipson, junior point guard Alyssa Shoji (pictured) and sophomore shooting guard Meagan Fulps. All three were honored among the league's top players a year ago.
Despite a nagging back injury, which has kept Gipson out of practice this week, expect her to be ready to go when SCU opens the season November 12.
"I think we can play with any team we have on our schedule. We are going to need to perform in pressure moments, that is going to be the key," says Gipson, one of the most prolific rebounders in SCU history. "That's something that held us back last year, giving up some runs, and not responding well when teams went on runs. Those are moments we need to step up and turn close games into our favor."
The bulk of Santa Clara's team is coming off their rookie seasons. The Broncos have seven sophomores and three true freshman on the roster.
"There is a lot of talent in that sophomore class," says Shoji, Santa Clara's floor leader. "There is a big difference, from what I can see, in the competitiveness of that group this year. A lot of those girls experienced the WCC playoffs and know how that felt. Everyone wants to compete."
The Bronco schedule has the team opening up at home against Fresno State University on Friday, November 12, then embarking on a five-game road trip during late November and early December.
Beginning with a home game against the University of the Pacific on Thursday, December 16, Santa Clara will remain in the area, playing at home or against local teams, until the WCC schedule takes the team to Spokane in late January.
"It's been really exciting for us so far. I feel like everyone on this team is so close and that makes such a huge difference on the court," says Shoji. "You can already tell we are playing a lot better together, reading each other well … the chemistry aspect of (practice) has been great."