Expect the Best!

Expect the best!

That is University of Miami Head Coach Ferne Labati’s outlook for the 1999-2000 Hurricanes women’s basketball season.

A breath of fresh air has blown through the women’s basketball program and Labati anxiously awaits the start of the final season of the Milennium and her 12th year as the Hurricane women’s basketball mentor.

“I’m excited and really think that we are going to surprise quite a few teams this year,” said Labati. “I am sure many consider this to be a rebuilding year for us but, despite the loss of four starters we are anxious to develop a new style of play that complements an outstanding group of young talent.”

It is exactly that optimistic outlook and drive that has caused Coach Labati, who is the all-time winningest women’s basketball coach at Miami, to pursue her fourth-consecutive winning season (10th winning season in 12 years) and third-consecutive national post-season tournament appearance.

Senior Gina Graziani will be expected to lead the ‘Canes assualt this season. A three-year starter at point-guard, Graziani will be heavily relied upon for her experience and smart play to lead the team.

“Perhaps our greatest strength will be the return of a four year starter at the point,” said Labati. “Gina really brings an intangible amount of leadership and experience to the table, and we will rely on her to make good decision on the floor, especially in key situations.”

The lone senior this year, Graziani and six other returnees, including juniors Dona Nando and Camilla Osth and sophomores Sheila James, Martha Bodley, Kathryn Fowler and Christal White welcome one of the most talented recruiting classes to Coral Gables. This balance of veteran players and young talent will be challenged by Labati early in the preseason to work hard and set the tone for the season.

From the Perimeter

The success of the 1999-2000 campaign begins with the depth and play of the backcourt.

Handling the point for the fourth consecutive season will be Graziani, who struggled through a nagging knee injury throughout last year. This year, the 5-8 senior will be looked upon to increase her scoring output while still being charged with running this young team.

“In order for us to be successful we need for Gina to step up as a leader on the court,” added Labati. “She realizes that we are going to be extremely young and she has taken it as a personal challenge to lead this team. Gina has put time in shooting the basketball and she knows we are counting on her to be a consistent scorer for us.”

Despite having a hand in over 21.5 percent of the Hurricane offense last year, Graziani will need to improve on her 5.2 points per game scoring average from a year ago.

Having started nearly every game in her career since arriving to the Coral Gables campus, Graziani finished the 1998-1999 campaign ranked 15th nationally in assists with a 6.4 per game average and is on pace to become the school’s all-time assist leader. She led the BIG EAST in the category as both a freshman (198) and sophomore (210).

Depth at the point is not a concern for coach Labati as both junior Dona Nando and freshman Amanda Papuga will spell Graziani throughout the year.

A 5-6 junior, Nando saw action in only nine games last season and spent most of the year rehabbing a torn ACL. Healthy this year, Nando is expected to provide quality minutes over the course of the long season.

“Dona is similar to Gina in that she is aggressive and likes to be a leader,” said Labati.” I also think she will be able to contribute offensively with solid three-point range.”

A highly touted freshman out of Oak Brook, Ill, Papuga is expected to have an immediate impact in the backcourt and should challenge for significant playing time.

“Amanda will give us a different look from a defensive perspective,” said Labati. “She is very passionate on defense and really loves to play and her ability to see the floor will help her adjust quickly to the college game.”

Checking in at 5-10, Papuga named an All-Conference and All-Area selection by both the Chicago Sun Times and the Chicago Tribune, completed a stellar high school career averaging 16.9 points and 4.8 assists per game during her senior year.

Sophomore Sheila James returns and is expected to fill the void left by the graduation of Beth Barnhart. The only newcomer to start a contest last year, the 5-5 product out of Palmetto High School appeared in 26 games and started two games last year averaging 4.2 points in 13.2 minutes per game. James will also be looked upon to be the emotional catalyst this season.

“Sheila has a passion for the game and always plays hard and has the ability to take over a game,” said Labati. “She is a slasher who can either put the ball on the floor and score or pull up and hit the jumper.”

Newcomers Dalia Clarke and Meghan Saake should challenge James for the starting two-spot.

A 5-11 Junior College All-American out of Marshalltown Community College (Iowa), Clarke possesses all the athleticism and talent to break into the starting line-up right away.

“If Dalia can come in and learn to play within our system, there is unlimited potential as to what she can do for this team,” added Labati.

While at Marshalltown, Clarke recorded 19 double-doubles, six triple-doubles and one quadruple double while averaging a staggering 17.0 points, 14.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 5.5 steals and 3.3 blocks per night while being named to Conference 11 First Team.

Saake, a four year starter out of Wellington, Fla. was named the Sun Sentinel Player of the Year and was also selected by the Palm Beach Post as a first-team all-area selection. A 5-10 shooter, Saake averaged 17.7 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists per contests while captaining Wellington HS to a 23-9 record her senior year.

“Meghan runs the floor very well and her outside shot will open up the inside for us,” says Labati.

In the Paint

The biggest question heading into the 1999-2000 season is, how does a team replace 61.2 percent of it scoring and 51.5 percent of its rebounding quickly enough to recover for a winning season? That is exactly the question Coach Labati and staff have got to find an answer for as Cassaundra Wimes and All-BIG EAST selections Kym Hope and Jennifer Jordan no longer roam the Hurricane paint.

“I think it is clear that we are going to have a different look this year and nowhere will this be more apparent than in our inside game,” said Labati. “After losing our three front court starters, we are definitely going to have to make some adjustments.”

The ability to think outside the box has been a key to the success of Ferne Labati over her 20 year collegiate coaching career and never has this been more evident than this year as she rebuilds the ‘Canes up front.

“This season we will have a very athletic front court which should counteract some of the mismatches that we will face,” commented Labati. “What we can’t do is limit ourselves in a strict structure where only a center can play center and only a forward can play a forward. Fortunately, we have four returnees that have gained valuable experience playing side-by-side with and against three of the best post players in UM history “

Leading the list of front court returnees is 6-2 junior Camilla Osth, who spent the summer playing for Sweden in the World University games as well as touring with the BIG EAST/Nike All Stars.A fundamentally strong player with a proven outside shot, Osth will need to improve her 1.7 points per game output as well as step up her defensive game.

“Camilla has unbelievable potential. Last year there were games where Camilla came off the bench and answered the call. What we need from her this year is consistency in her play and there is really no doubt in my mind as to whether she is capable of doing that or not.”A trio of sophomores, Kathryn Fowler, Marth Bodley, and Christal White all return and will battle for playing time.

Fowler played in 27 games a year ago and finished second on the team in field goal percentage with a .517 average. A Christ the King (New York) alumnae, she brings with her a winning tradition and a passion for the game.

“Kathryn gained some experience as a freshman and demonstrated a soft touch around the basket. Because we will face some mismatches this year, we will really depend on Kathryn’s strength inside.”

Bodley will look to fill the spot vacated by Jordan. At 6-3, she is the tallest Hurricane this year and showed flashes of brilliance last year averaging 3.3 caroms per game in just 6.6 minutes per night. Thanks in large part to an off-season strength program she has added a lot of power to her game and should prove to be a force inside.

“Martha has the ability to hit the boards and really use her body to box out,” continued Labati, “she will anchor our inside game and serve as a presence for us in the paint.”

White made 23 appearances last year and was one of the key reserves off the bench. Her diligent work ethic and versatility caused her minutes to steadily increase as the season progressed and she finished the year as the third leading scorer off the bench averaging 3.2 points per night.

“Christal’s athleticism and size enabled us to use her in several capacities. She was able to run the wing for us as well as get inside and bang with the big kids. That is what makes her so dangerous in our offense. We are counting on her to return with that same versatility.

The frontcourt will be further bolstered by the entrance of Alicia Hartlaub, who is expected to challenge immediately for a starting role.

“Alicia has the ability to finish plays and find a way to get to the foul line. That is something that appealed to our staff from the get go.”

A 1,000 point scorer out of Schaefferstown, Pa., she led Elco High School to the state playoffs while scoring 18.2 points and grabbing 11.9 rebounds per game.

The Schedule

The schedule features 10 games against teams that played during the 1998-99 postseason, including a Jan. 29 match-up with defending BIG EAST Champion Connecticut at the Miami Arena.

The Hurricanes schedule consists of 16 home games, including the UM/UConn game at the Miami Arena, and 11 road games.

Miami opens up the schedule at home with five straight non-conference games against Furman (11/21), Eastern Kentucky (11/24), and 1999 NCAA Tournament qualifiers Tulane (11/28), Florida (12/1) and Florida International (12/4).

The remaining non-conference games include road games against Florida Atlantic (12/11) and Western Kentucky (1/11), an appearance in the Orange Bowl Fab Four vs. 1999 NCAA participant N.C. State and a home match-up vs. Atlantic 10 foe Temple (1/2).

The Hurricanes open their BIG EAST schedule on Jan.5 when they travel to Rutgers, which advanced to the Elite Eight of last year’s NCAA Tournament. The Hurricanes open their BIG EAST home schedule against Seton Hall on Jan. 15.

The Hurricanes home BIG EAST schedule also includes 1999 BIG EAST Champion Connecticut (1/29) and NCAA Tournament participants Notre Dame (1/22) and Boston College (2/2). All three were ranked in last year’s AP top 25 poll.

“To be the best you need to play the best”, said head coach Ferne Labati. “Year in and year out we schedule tough games because we feel it will only help us down the road. Playing a challenging non-conference schedule prepares us for the competition we face as a member of the BIG EAST, which sends four to five teams to the postseason annually.”