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Turning Schedule Challenges into Opportunities

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Flexibility is key this season for the Miami women’s basketball team, as there are still many unknowns about the COVID-19 pandemic and how it will affect the 2020-21 season.

The Canes had their first hiccup of the year this past weekend when Sunday’s game against Stetson was canceled due to a positive test impacting the Stetson program. While Miami ended up missing out on a game opportunity, the silver lining from the cancelation was there.

“We scrimmaged hard on Sunday and it might have been better than any game we were trying to pick up,” head coach Katie Meier said. “After I watched that scrimmage, I thought, ‘My God did we compete like it was a real game.’”

Like many schools, Miami benefits greatly from a new NCAA rule that allows two support staff members to serve in a practice player or manager role this season. Because of this rule, the Canes’ scout team features a pair of professional basketball players in Shenise Johnson and Morgan Stroman.

“When you have [Shenise] and [Morgan] Stroman and you can make them Syracuse on the scout team with some of the other talent we have, it’s incredibly helpful,” Meier said. “We also have Karla Erjavec back from Croatia and she has done an exceptional job, as well.”

Another benefit that came from the Stetson cancelation was the added time to prepare for the ACC opener, which takes place on Thursday against No. 20/18 Syracuse.

“As a team, we all progressed more because we had time to get our chemistry together for this upcoming game,” senior Endia Banks said. “It gave us time, as a team, to really get our minds together and just be prepared for this dog fight that we are about to be in for.”

No one plays harder for 40 minutes than Syracuse, according to Meier, and the Canes know that they will have to bring toughness and grit to Thursday’s game in order to come out with a victory.

“Syracuse is a team that will wear you down when you are tired and I know, as a team, when we get fatigued, we get a little rowdy,” Banks said. “If we stay together and lift each other up, we can come out with a win.”

Meier has seen that toughness and grit from her senior class this season, especially since the loss of senior Mykea Gray. Senior Kelsey Marshall has doubled her scoring from a season ago (18.7) and has taken on more of a point guard role, while Taylor Mason and Banks continue to contribute, averaging 10.0 and 9.7 points per game, respectively.

Even more than that, they have truly become leaders on the team.

“I’ve been really proud of those three seniors,” Meier said. “They weren’t even sure they were having a season and then they weren’t sure what their role was going to be. Now it is, ‘Listen, we are going to ride or die with you.’ They are fighting hard and they are practicing hard and they are leading.”

The senior class and the rest of the Canes look to remain undefeated this season, taking on Syracuse Thursday. The Canes and the Orange have meet 31 times in program history, with Miami coming out on top in 21 affairs between the schools. When playing at the Watsco Center, the Canes are 12-4 all-time against Syracuse.

Thursday’s game also marks the start of conference play for Miami. The Canes are entering their 17th season in the ACC and hold a 10-6 record in conference openers. Syracuse will be the 11th unique opponent to open the Canes’ ACC slate, with the only other teams that Miami has never faced in an ACC opener being Louisville, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh.

Tipoff on Thursday is set for 8 p.m. and the game will air on ACC Network with Beth Mowins and Debbie Antonelli on the call.