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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

UC Davis women’s basketball 2022-23 season preview

With three key players gone, the Aggies start a new era 

By MARLON ROLON — sports@theaggie.org

 

The UC Davis women’s basketball team is coming off an up-and-down 2021-22 season — beating the University of Oregon, who was ranked No. 16 at that time, and Gonzaga for the first time in program history. The Aggies entered the Big West tournament as the sixth seed, which broke their streak of four-straight regular season titles and they were seconds away from making their third straight finals appearance in the tournament. However, UC Davis let the game slip away in the final 30 seconds of regulation, and the Aggies lost to UC Irvine in overtime. They finished the season with an overall record of 15-13 and 8-8 in conference play. 

UC Davis’ elimination from the Big West tournament left players on the court in tears — especially for graduating seniors Sage Stobbart, Cierra Hall and Kayla Konrad, who were integral to the four regular season titles, two Big West Tournament championships and two NCAA tournament appearances. The trio achieved accolades that set a high standard within the program. 

“To see them come in here and help raise the bar for our program is unbelievable,” Head Coach Jennifer Gross said following their semi-final loss to UC Irvine. “Those are three special individuals, and I’m so proud of them and their careers.”

Following their exit from the tournament, so many questions swirled around about the program. Who would replace the trio in the starting lineup? How would the Aggies fare in the regular season, and would they even get into the Big West tournament? 

“In the past we’d really gotten used to having that target on our back and all of a sudden now we’re an underdog,” Gross said.

Fast forward to this year, as Gross enters her 12th season as the head coach for the UC Davis women’s basketball team, the Aggies are prepared to answer those questions on the court. 

Gross has assembled the roster with three new transfer recruits: graduate student forward Tess Sussman, third-year guard Tova Sabel and redshirt first-year guard Victoria Baker. 

“We are really excited to add [Baker], [Sabel], and [Sussman] to our team this season,” Gross said in a recent interview with UC Davis. “They are all highly skilled players, great students, and most importantly, incredible people who will fit in well with the team culture we have built here at UC Davis. We can’t wait for our Aggie fans to watch them compete!”

Baker is a Texas native transferring from UC Irvine. In her lone season as an Anteater, Baker averaged 5.0 points, 2.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. Most notably, Baker is known to be a gritty defender, an attribute that Gross loves from her players.

 “[Baker] is a gritty defender who makes lots of hustle plays and will help us with our goal of being an elite defensive team,” Gross said.

Sabel is from Stockholm, Sweden. She is a transfer from Penn State, and in her two seasons there, she averaged 5.2 points and 2.4 rebounds per game. With Sabel on the roster, the Aggies added much-needed experience, as she was a part of the Swedish National U19 Team. In 2019, Sabel was voted the Most Valuable Player on the U19 National Team.

Sussman, a Harvard transfer from Needham, Massachusetts, averaged 5.9 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game in her three seasons with the Crimson. In her senior season, Sussman reached a career high in points, field goals made and steals. Sussman is also a gold medalist for Team USA at the 2022 Maccabiah Games.

Out of the three transfers, Sussman is the one who will make an impact inside the paint in terms of attaining rebounds. Offensively, she averaged 8.3 points per game in her last year at Harvard. And with high minutes on the court, Sussman can bring that average even higher in the Big West under Gross’s guidance. 

Aside from the new transfers joining the blue and gold, the Aggies have star players who are expected to lead the team in this new era of Aggie basketball. Last season, third-year guard Evanne Turner averaged 12.6 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. Turner is coming off of her best season yet, during which she was an offensive game changer for UC Davis behind the three-point line. Turner will take over Cierra Hall’s role as a leader and face of the team, being selected as the coach’s preseason All-Big West team. 

“[Turner’s] been tremendous, as a coach you hope that the best players are setting the tone with their work ethic and with their energy and she’s done such an amazing job with that,” Gross said. “[Turner] brings joy to the game and to the court and our fans get a chance to see that; She’s been a fun player to watch.”

Another notable player is second-year starting point-guard Sydney Burns, who averaged 5.5 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game during her first year. Burns’ performance on the court led her to be selected for the 2022 Big West All-Freshman Team. Burns is excellent at stretching the floor in addition to her vision with passing abilities that make her essential to the offense. 

One more player who will have a big role this season is fourth-year forward Lena Svanholm. Last season, Stobbart played the center position, but taking over that role this season is Svanholm. With her 6’6” stature, she will not have a problem guarding the paint. Svanholm had limited minutes (13 minutes per game on average) on the court last season, but even with limited action, Svanholm averaged 5.4 points and 3.0 rebounds per game. With Svanholm predicated to get more playing time this year, she should be a big help to the Aggies on the defensive side. 

These veteran players on the roster have the experience and potential to bring the Big West Championship back to Davis. The offense will run through Turner who is one of the best three point shooters in the Big West conference. Gross and her coaching staff will rely on their veterans starters and new transfers who have valuable experience under their belts.

The annual preseason poll conducted by the league’s 11 head coaches picked UC Davis to finish in sixth-place, with Hawai’i selected to repeat as the conference champions.

 The team’s journey begins on Nov. 1 in an exhibition game at home against San Francisco State. On Nov. 7, the Aggies officially open the season at home against Bethel College. UC Davis will then go on the road on Nov. 11 to face the University of Washington. They then return home on Nov. 17 to host Boise State and travel to face off against cross-town rivals Sacramento State on Nov. 22.

The schedule will then transition to the Tiger Turkey Tip-Off tournament in Stockton on Nov. 26 and 27. In their first game, the Aggies will play against Wyoming, and in their second game, they will play against the University of Pacific. 

As the schedule gets tougher, UC Davis will go on the road to face Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga on Dec. 3 and Dec. 11. Then, the Aggies will return to Davis for a homestand against William Jessup University and Northern Arizona University on Dec. 15 and Dec. 19. The team will open their Big West conference schedule against the defending champions, the University of Hawai’i, on Dec. 29. 

There are plenty of question marks that surround Gross’ team due the departure of the big three — Stobbart, Hall and Konrad — but the Aggies still have arguably the best shooter in the Big West conference in Evanne Turner. Gross, who is a five-time “Coach of the Year,” has plenty of knowledge and experience to bring the best out of her players. With her at the helm, expect UC Davis to make a run in the postseason and contend for the Big West championship — something they do year in and year out.  

 

Written by: Marlon Rolon — sports@theaggie.org