Women’s basketball enters season with something to prove

DIANA LI / AGGIE

After greatest season in team history, team hopes to build off success

In 2016-17, the UC Davis women’s basketball team had its most successful season since joining Division I. The Aggies semifinal loss in the Big West tournament and ensuing third round exit in the WNIT tournament left the Aggies yearning for another chance to step out on the court and build off their success of the previous season. With most of the core group returning, as well as some promising new talent, head coach Jennifer Gross is looking forward to seeing what the team has up its sleeve.

“I feel like this could be the best team that we’ve ever had at UC Davis,” Gross said. “But if we focus too much on March, then we’re not going to achieve what we can achieve. I’m really excited.”

The excitement is echoed throughout her team. For first-year forward Cierra Hall, the season’s start means that all of the hard work she has put in and all of the relationships she has already built with her teammates can finally be put to the test and pay off. Hall credits her teammates for welcoming in the first year Aggies with open arms and making them feel immediately as though they were a part of something special.

“I cannot wait.” Hall said. “Just being on the court with this new team. This team I call my family now, so I can’t wait to get out there and get some wins with them and just have some fun.”

With every new year comes changes which can help or hinder a team’s shot at success, but senior forward Dani Nafekh likes what she is seeing from this year’s team and hopes that she and the other veteran players on the team can lead this team much like those who came before her. Coming into her final year at UC Davis, Nafekh is excited to take on the leadership role and hopes that she can summon the same veteran leadership of ex-teammate Lauren Beyer and everyone else who helped to get her where she is today and use it to deliver something special as other teams take notice of the Aggies success.

“We know we did super well last year,” Nafekh said. “Obviously last year we were confident and knew we were a good team, but now we know that other teams know we were a really good team so we have to play knowing that people are coming after us.”

Gross is looking forward to seeing this new iteration of Aggie basketball, crediting her returning players for stepping up all offseason in order to be ready for the challenges the team is facing. She likes what she sees in her first-year players and credits them with being one of the strongest classes that she has had in years. Gross will not go easy on the newcomers, however. According to her, it’s not an easy road to even make it to the court for the season, but it’s a system that has brought the team success before.

“They’re in a difficult situation because we’re going more at a veteran’s pace than a newcomer’s pace,” Gross said. “So we’re throwing them into the mix, and we’re asking them to learn quickly and learn on the fly.”

This on-the-fly learning was nothing new for Hall. She spoke of the sacrifices that are necessary to succeed in basketball and makes sure that she puts in the proper work to get to this next level of basketball. To her, basketball isn’t just a fall sport with breaks in between the season — it’s a commitment to achievement.

“I feel like basketball, they say, is a winter sport,“ Hall said. “But for me it’s year-round. You just always have to be ready and especially when you find out you’re going to go play at the next level. That’s when you really need to get in the gym and start getting shots up.”

This commitment is necessary to fitting in with the returning players, and Nafekh loves what she sees from her newest teammates. This is what is important to Nafekh and the rest of the of the returning players. They understand the initial hardships that come with coming with a new program and make sure that they’re there for the newcomers.

“I think it’s a learning curve for everyone, but it’s going well,” Nafekh said. “We know that it’s a lot to take in and a lot to learn, but everyone will be happy with you if you’re just trying your hardest and going as hard as possible.”

With last year’s success, the team must now use whatever resources it can to make this year a success. Gross knows that success is not a given and the team cannot go into the year expecting too much or to exceed the previous year’s triumphs. Gross explained that the biggest hurdle between her team and the ultimate goal is not necessarily wearing a different uniform.

“It’s us versus us no matter who we’re playing,” Gross said. “And how good can this team be? So, right now we still have a week and a half of practice before we’re heading into our first official game, and so it’s even too soon to talk about them right now.”

With the regular season underway, only time will tell whether the Aggies made the proper moves to ensure another successful season. According to Nafekh, this competition is the culmination of all of their hard work. It is when they know that everything paid off.

“It’s been a long month of just practicing and I know everyone just looks forward to games, so I think we’re all super-pumped to finally get out there.”

After a decisive 77-34 victory in an exhibition game against the Academy of Art, the Aggies went on to defeat Washington State on Friday and won by a mere five points against Pepperdine on Sunday. The Aggies will face off against Portland State tomorrow at 7 p.m.

 

Written by: Bradley Geiser — sports@theaggie.org