SANTA CLARA, Calif. – With a new coaching staff and a lot of unfamiliar faces, Santa Clara women's basketball gets set to kick-off the 2014-15 season on Sat., Nov. 1 at 6 p.m. vs. Notre Dame de Namur in an exhibition game at the Leavey Center. JR Payne and her coaching staff have been working over the past six months with the team to get ready for this day.
"We're really just trying to figure out who we are still," said Payne. "I'm trying to help us become a disciplined, organized team and we're not that yet but were striving towards that. Some days we have great possessions where we are really disciplined and we make the right choices. Other possessions that we just kind of lose it and it kind of turns to slop a little bit. So we are making definite progress towards that, but that's really where our focus is right now, is trying to become more of a disciplined ball club."
Nici Gilday led the Broncos in almost all offensive categories last season. She started all 30 games and leading the Broncos in points per game (17.1), minutes per game (33.4), field goals made (180), field goals attempted (421), threes made (36), threes attempted (111), free throws made (116), free throws attempted (134), free throw percentage (.866), assists (76), and steals (42). She also set the Santa Clara single-game record with 40 points vs. LMU on Feb. 27, 2014. She was named All-WCC Honorable Mention for her efforts.
The next highest returning scorer is sophomore Marie Bertholdt who averaged 7.2 ppg and led the team with 5.8 rpg. Bertholdt also led the team with 24 blocks and sot .528 (67-127) from the floor. Vanessa Leo averaged 5.6 ppg and 4.3 rpg while adding 19 blocks. Raquel Avila, who will see plenty of time at the point, was second on the team with 74 assists while adding 33 steals and 3.6 ppg.
Last season the Broncos ran the floor and looked to push the ball. That led to some turnover issues but Payne says the team will still look to run this year. They will just look to make better decisions.
"I'd say we definitely will try to transition even though we're not as deep as last year's team," said Payne. "We will have to be really smart and strategic with how we push and transition and when we slow down. It really will be more about playing smart basketball. So even with a half court team, there's time to transition and with transition teams there's times that you need to play in the half court. We'll strive to really try to educate the players on when and where as far as transition."
With a new coaching staff in place, the team has to learn a whole new playbook. The coaches know that will take time so they aren't trying to do too much at once to start the season.
"We have a handful of specials, and a couple out of bounds plays, and one or two defenses but we haven't gotten too deep on anything," said Payne. "We really take the philosophy of you have to do something well before you can move on. There's no point in running 20 things if you don't run anything well. We're really just trying to understand and make our proper reeds in our offense and then execute the few things that we do have. So it will all be pretty basic. It won't be too fancy but if we can execute and we are disciplined then we will be really happy."
With so many new faces, Santa Clara will have to rely on its veterans to lead the way.
"We have four freshmen and two transfers - a lot of new faces," said Payne. "Even a lot of the returners are people that haven't necessarily played a lot of minutes. So as far as true experience we only have a couple players with a lot of experience on the court. We will rely on them to lead and talk and help tell everybody to chill out when people get nervous."
As for Payne, she is excited to get to walk the sidelines in her first game as head coach of the Broncos.
"Anytime you get to play at home it's a good thing," said Payne. "I love the coach up at Notre Dame de Namur. She's a friend of ours. She came from Dixie State where we knew her. They'll have a good team. They had a couple of good transfers that came in so they'll be good competition. It'll be fun to get the kids in uniform and be on the sidelines - it'll be great."