Every so often a season comes along in the life of an established program that forces the team to overcome unique challenges. This will be such a season for Temple women's basketball, as the Owls are full of young and as-yet-unproven talent for the 2012-13 season. Six freshmen on a roster of 11 players will be relied on to keep a strong tradition of success alive, while the few veteran leaders will be tasked with showing them the way.
Temple has made nine straight appearances in the postseason, but narrowly missed out on a NCAA Tournament berth last year for the first time since 2003. The Owls shook off the disappointment and went on to win two games in the Women's National Invitation Tournament (WNIT). This year the Owls will not only look to keep their postseason streak alive, but are hoping to make their final year in the Atlantic 10 Conference a memorable one before joining the BIG EAST Conference in 2013-14.
Fifth-year head coach Tonya Cardoza
now has a team full of student-athletes she recruited, and has established herself as an extremely successful head coach with an overall record of 93-38. While she acknowledges the challenges that will be faced with such a young team this season, she appreciates the opportunity for a fresh start.
“We're going to ask a lot of our sophomores and our freshman class,” said Cardoza. “They're going to have to step in, and every day they're in here working and trying to improve. We're looking forward to being the underdog again. Last year we were a preseason top two pick, but now to be the underdog again, I think this is probably what our team needs. It's a position that we usually thrive on, so we're looking forward to it.”
Only two upperclassmen are part of this year's team. Senior Victoria Macaulay
and redshirt junior Natasha Thames
are the only members of the team who have played in the NCAA Tournament. Both are in their fourth year with the program, and both have much to prove. Thames was forced to miss nearly all of last season after suffering a knee injury, and Macaulay, a center, spent last season playing on a guard-heavy squad with the likes of Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Shey Peddy
and fourth all-time leading scorer Kristen McCarthy
. Macaulay has spent the off-season working harder than ever, and feels ready for the challenges ahead.
“Obviously, there's no replacing Shey, Kristen and BJ (Williams),” said Cardoza. “But this team has a chance to make a fresh start and really surprise a lot of people. We do have good leadership in Vic and Tasha. Vic has worked extremely hard to try to better her game and to be able to take over and lead our team, and Tasha, it's great to be able to have her back on the court after missing last year.”
Great leadership is important to every team, but in the Owls' situation this year it is even more so. With three of five returners being sophomores, even those with relatively little experience will be relied upon to lead. Cardoza is impressed with what she's seen so far from all of her veterans.
“Vic has always been strong-willed and always had a voice, but to see her now use it more and demand greatness from the younger guys, and then to hold herself accountable as well, that's always good to see when your seniors are doing things like that. Tasha's coming off a knee injury, but she's been making sure that she's been a vocal leader. Tyonna (Williams), who's only a sophomore, has done a great job in trying to show the younger guys what it's like and what to expect. To see sophomores making sure the freshmen have the right attitude about things is remarkable.”
Macaulay looks to be a true threat after improving her game even more when she'd already receieved accolades for that very thing a year ago. She was named Most Improved on the team, and also named the Big 5's Most Improved Player last season. The Big 5 Second Team selection led the team on the glass with 7.5 rebounds per game (seventh in the A-10) and was third on the team with 9.7 points per game. Macaulay really picked up the pace in the latter half of the season, scoring in double figures in 11 of the final 13 games.
Two seasons ago, Thames led the team with 5.5 rebounds per game, and was a standout during the team's NCAA Second Round game vs. Notre Dame with 12 points and 14 rebounds. She was looking strong in the beginning of her junior season, hitting 3-of-5 vs. Ohio State and pulling down seven boards vs. Miami (OH) before being sidelined in the first game of December vs. Auburn.
Last year's sophomore trio is down one member after Monaye Merritt
suffered a knee injury in the off-season, but the other two are back and ready for an increased role. Tyonna Williams
played in 31 games as a freshman, starting in two. She averaged 3.2 points per game and scored a season-high 14 points in leading the team to a win at La Salle. Rateska Brown
played in 24 games and averaged 3.9 points per game, twice scoring 12 points off the bench.
The six freshmen on this year's team represent four states and three countries. From Ashdod, Israel, comes guard May Dayan
, already a long-time member of the Israeli National Team. Sally Kabengano
hails from Stockholm, Sweden, where the forward won national championships with the U20, U18 and U16 teams.
Guard Erica Covile
is from Canton, Mich., and was a four-time all-state selection in her high school career at John Glenn HS and Detroit Cody HS. Forward Jacquilyn Jackson
is from Gaithersburg, Md., where she led her Gaithersburg HS team to undefeated seasons and state titles as both a junior and senior. Forward Leah Horton
hails from Macungie, Pa., and was a two-time all-conference selection out of Emmaus HS. Guard Meghan Roxas
is from Ridgewood, N.J., and scored 1,143 points in her Ridgewood HS career.
Cardoza remembers that during her longtime assistant coaching stint at the University of Connecticut, there was a time when a team was made up largely of newcomers. As a head coach though, this will be a new challenge.
“It's exciting,” said Cardoza. “Some days it's frustrating, obviously, because of the teaching part and young guys tend to wander. Keeping their attention and keeping them focused can be tough. But the exciting part is that it's unknown what's going to happen. We don't know who's going to perform and on any given night it could be someone different. Every day you get to see different glimpes of people, and sometimes change is good. We've been accustomed to doing things a certain way the last couple of years because of the personnel, and now we get to try different things and that's exciting.”
Knowing how important team chemistry is, Cardoza and her staff made sure to start fostering that early on in the process.
“Before the freshmen even got here we sat down with the returners and talked about what the team chemistry was going to be like. We made sure those four had a bond and a connection so that when the six freshmen came in there would be that bond already there. They've done a great job and our team chemistry off the court right now is unbelieveable. Probably the best its ever been. They really enjoy one another and no one feels like they can't talk to someone else. They all get along and hang out off the court. For the most part, these guys truly are like best friends.”
Fans will get many early looks at the team, as the season schedule includes four home contests in the month of November. The Owls will play 13 teams that appeared in the postseason last year including six NCAA participants.
Temple's final season in the A-10 has the Owls playing 14 of the 15 possible opponents, including new members VCU (home) and Butler (away). BIG EAST Conference play will begin in 2013-14 for the Owls, but they will face five opponents out of the BIG EAST this season.
“Our schedule is set up to prepare us to do well in the Atlantic 10,” said Cardoza, “but we also get a look at the future by playing some BIG EAST teams. Starting our season with home games will be great for our team because we're so young this year. Our players will have to adjust quickly to playing at this level and I think this schedule will help them do that.”
The season opener on Friday, Nov. 9 has Temple at home facing Montana, a longtime powerhouse out of the Big Sky Conference. After a road trip to Nebraska, a 2012 NCAA Tournament participant, the Owls return home for games against Seton Hall, Northeastern and Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights, a longtime rival of Temple and a BIG EAST member, also earned a NCAA Tournament berth last year.
Temple will play one nationally-televised game in the regular season when it travels across town to Saint Joseph's on Sunday, Feb. 17. That game will air live on CBS Sports Network at 2:00 p.m., and along with being an A-10 contest it will also be the Owls' final Big 5 game of the season.
After opening the month of December with a home game against Syracuse, Temple will play its next six games on the road. Highlights include games at Auburn on Dec. 16 and at Michigan State on Dec. 29. The 2013 calendar year begins with a road swing to Washington, D.C., to face Georgetown (Jan. 2) and Howard (Jan. 4). The Hoyas advanced to the NCAA Second Round a year ago and to the Sweet 16 the year before.
The Owls begin A-10 play at defending conference champ and 2012 NCAA Sweet 16 team St. Bonaventure on Jan. 13. The A-10 schedule is balanced between home and road contests with seven of each, and Temple will never play more than two in a row either at home or away. After the final road trip to Dayton and Butler in late February, the Owls return home for their final regular season game against Fordham on March 3.
The majority of this year's Atlantic 10 Tournament returns to Saint Joseph's March 8-10, while the championship game will be played in Brooklyn, N.Y. at the Barclays Center in conjunction with the A-10 Men's Basketball Tournament semifinals.
“This being our last season in the A-10, we obviously want it to be a memorable one,” said Cardoza. “We've been so close to the top for a couple years now and it's time for us to get to that next level.”
By Karen Auerbach, Associate Director, Athletic Communications