WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 05, 2001
Blueprint for a Winner

Entering the third season in program history, the Jacksonville University women's basketball team and head coach Melissa Taketa will continue to build the foundation for success. Last season the Dolphins made a seven-game improvement from the inaugural campaign and put together the longest winning streak in school history, a crucial six-game stretch through conference play in January and February to finish 13-15. JU finished tied for fourth in the league with a 9-9 record, its best showing in two seasons.

Even though JU was much-improved in 2000-01, the Dolphins have not put together a winning season, falling just two games short last year, and have yet to win a postseason game. So finishing above .500 and making some noise in the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship tournament are the most significant goals for the 2001-02 squad.

To achieve even greater heights, JU will rely on four veterans and a full cast of talented newcomers. The Dolphins are led by 6-1 junior forward Kat Sungy (Arvada, Colo.), who was voted to the first-team All-Atlantic Sun last year and is a consensus preseason all-conference selection this year. Sungy, JU's all-time leading rebounder, led the A-Sun in rebounding last season with 9.4 carams per game and ranked in the top 10 in scoring with 11.0 points per game. She also had the most double-doubles in the league with 10 and ranked third in field goal percentage, sinking 54 percent of her shots.

Also returning for the Dolphins is junior sharp-shooter Lexie Richards (Mercer Island, Wash.), who is a career 37-percent shooter from behind the arc. She has led the conference in three-pointers made the past two seasons and has also ranked in the top five in accuracy both years. Richards has averaged 9.1 points per game for her career and looks to regain the touch from her freshman season, when she hit 41.5 percent of her three-point attempts and averaged 9.9 points per game to earn a spot on the Atlantic Sun all-freshman team.

JU's lone senior is forward Lana Labura (Zagreb, Croatia), who played in only 12 games last year after sitting out the first 16 games with a foot injury. In her first game back, Labura led the Dolphins to a victory over Mercer with 16 points and averaged 5.4 points and 3.4 rebounds in only 13.7 minutes over the final 12 contests.

Sophomore forward Yolisha Jackson (Clarksville, Tenn.) looks to build on a solid rookie campaign, during which she averaged 6.5 points and 4.6 rebounds off the bench. Jackson is a solid all-around player capable of putting up double-digit point totals. As with most programs, key questions need to be answered early. The Dolphins have gotten off to slow starts in their first two seasons, and with four junior transfers and three freshmen in the mix, the team will have to gel quickly to avoid the same pitfall.

Backcourt

The Dolphin backcourt should be stronger this season, especially on the perimeter where Richards and Jackson will be surrounded by a trio of long-range threats: junior forward Aisha Stewart (Topeka, Kan.), junior guard Elizabeth Simmons (O'Fallon, Ill.) and freshman guard Yvette Jackson (Sarasota, Fla.). Stewart averaged 10.0 points per game and connected on 42 percent of her three-point attempts to help Independence Community College rank first at the junior college level in scoring at 95.0 points per game last year. At Southwest Illinois Junior College, Simmons shot 42 percent from the field and 33 percent from three-point range, while Yvette Jackson was the Florida 6A Player of the Year and an all-state selection last year at Riverview High School, where her career high was a 36-point performance. This group shows promise as an outstanding core of scorers Taketa can depend on and should help ease the loss of Angela Walker, who was an all-conference performer and averaged more than 10 points per game during her JU career. Rounding out the perimeter is freshman forward Lauren Woodman (Port Moody, B.C., Canada), who has been slowed by injury in the preseason. The biggest question for the Dolphins is at the point guard position, where newcomers must replace the steady play of Shannon Wynn, JU's all-time leader in assists. The likely replacements include junior Gemma McInally (Newcastle upon Tyne, England) and junior Dee Cummings (Huntsville, Ala.). Cummings is a transfer from Providence, where she once had 17 assists in a single game, but she will not be eligible until after the fall semester according to NCAA transfer rules. In the meantime, expect to see Simmons step in and help at the position.

Frontcourt

The Dolphin presence in the paint looks physically smaller than last season but more athletic and talented overall. Labura will see action at the small forward position after playing on the perimeter the past two seasons. She and Sungy should provide the experience to blend with junior transfer Veronique McMillian (Los Angeles, Calif.) and freshman Kara Donnell (Mattoon, Ill.). At 6-1, McMillian is a solid force in the middle who can move opponents in the low blocks and be a dominant player in the conference. She averaged 11.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game last season at Garden City Community College. Donnell was an all-state selection at Mattoon (Ill.) High School, where she broke her own school record for field goal percentage last year by hitting 68 percent of her shots.

Schedule

With three games during the first week of the season, a quick start will help JU when it faces conference opponents Troy State and Mercer on the road the first week in December. Five of the first six games this year are on the road, which could prove to be a great way for the new and the old to blend and put all the pieces together.

Navy and Savannah State are new to the schedule as the Midshipmen will make a visit to Swisher Gymnasium in the Dolphins' season-opener on Nov. 18. JU will return trips to Davidson and College of Charleston, before making a tough trip to Tallahasse to face Florida State, which made the NCAA Tournament last season. JU then returns home to face familiar foes, Elon and Conference USA foe South Florida. The conference may have a new name, the Atlantic Sun Conference, but there is only one new face with the addition of Belmont, so the Dolphins will renew their league rivalries in the traditional home-and-home format.

Campbell and Georgia State look to be tough once again, with the Fighting Camels picked by the league's media as the pre-season conference favorite, while the Lady Panthers were chosen by the coaches. Georgia State made the NCAA Tournament last year after winning the conference tournament in Orlando over Campbell by two points. Campbell, who won the conference championship and made the NCAA Tournament in 2000, was the regular-season champion and returns last season's A-Sun Player of the Year, April Cromartie. Cromartie was also a unanimous selection in both the coaches and the media preseason polls to repeat as player of the year. Stetson and Troy State, which will host the 2002 Atlantic Sun Conference Championship, along with JU, UCF and newcomer Belmont are expected to be among the top teams in the league.

Summary

With seven new players on the roster, learning the Dolphins' defensive schemes and patient offenses requires time and true commitment to execution. After slow starts the first two seasons, Taketa is working to get the Dolphins off to a better start, although newness and injuries have taken an early toll on the team.

Taketa will find a way to blend the new talent and improve team play as the season goes along. For certain, the Dolphins will be prepared for each game and display the great effort and unselfish team play that has been a trademark of the Dolphin program from the start. If each individual can bring maximum mental and physical toughness to the floor, the Dolphins can improve on last year's fourth place finish and end up with their first winning campaign.