Taking the Next Step

Nov. 6, 2007

The sky is the limit for the JU women's basketball team after the squad recorded the most successful season in program history and came two wins away from its first A-Sun title.

Last season, the Dolphins tallied a program-best 21-9 record and rewrote the record book en route to the number two seed in the postseason tournament.

After reaching the semifinals, which included the program's first tournament win, JU enters the 2007-08 season as the favorite to run the table, as was the consensus of the conference coaches poll. The Dolphins were voted to finish first in the regular season and then go on to win the postseason tournament, which is a first in program history.

"We were able to accomplish a lot last year winning 21 games, breaking eight school records and finishing second in the conference," Dunn said. "It was a huge turnaround for our program and I feel it opened a lot of people's eyes to what this team is capable of achieving in the future."

Now with the Dolphins riding high in her fourth season, head coach Jill Dunn is ready to take the program even further into the unknown: an A-Sun regular season and conference tournament title and a trip to the Big Dance.

"We have progressed every year that I've been here and the obvious next step for us is to win the A-Sun title and go on to the NCAA Tournament," said Dunn. "Everyone in the conference thinks we are the team to beat so we need to go out and prove that to be true."

At the forefront of the Dolphin's season will be the play of senior forward Ashley Williams and junior guard Virginia Gregoire. The first duo to earn first team all-conference accolades at JU, the two-headed monster ranked first and third, respectively in conference scoring.

Also making up the talented core of returners is junior guards Regina Omoite and DaVina Hamilton.

Both guards enjoyed breakout seasons as Omoite emerged as the floor general for the young squad while Hamilton solidified the two-guard spot. The pair, which have been teammates since their days at North Miami Beach High School, developed into a perfect compliment for Williams and Gregoire.

Also adding depth, talent and experience to the core of upperclassmen will be sophomore guard Courtney Jackson, sophomore forwards Crystal Grable and Desarae Johnson and sophomore center Danielle Gray.

Guard Shunice Hardy (Stephenson HS), guard Cameo Kent (Jensen Beach HS), forward Lynsey Paschal (Sandy Creek HS) and center Gabby Sermons (Open Bible HS) make up the newest wave of freshmen to make their way to the First Coast.

Along with four newcomers, the Dolphins will also feature a new addition on the sidelines with the arrival of DeUnna Hendrix. A point guard at Richmond from 2003-07, Hendrix helped lead the Spiders to the WNIT Final Four in 2004 and earned a bid into the NCAA Tournament in 2005.

"We are excited to have DeUnna join our staff. because she brings new ideas and good insight when dealing with the student-athletes," Dunn said. "She will also be able to help the perimeter players develop their games."

Another added bonus for the program will be additional opportunities to play games in the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. After playing two contests in the state-of-the-art venue last season, the Dolphins will host four contests in 2007-08.

"We are excited about having more opportunities to play at the Arena," said Dunn. "We won both of our games last year and it helps to bring in NCAA Tournament caliber opponents when you can offer to play in one of the top facilities in the country."

With her blue print for success beginning to hit on all cylinders, Dunn and her squad are focused on the task at hand.

The Dolphins boast the most talented and athletic core of returning guards in the conference, along with a pair of highly touted freshmen.

Junior Regina Omoite will take full control of the point guard duties this season after developing into the floor general for the program.

Along with increasing her assist-to-turnover ratio, Omoite has developed into one of the top three-point shooters in the conference. Her consistent pressure on defense and ability to push the ball up the floor is also a catalyst for Dunn's style of play.

"`Ro' is probably the most competitive player on our roster and she is going to bring us a lot of energy and leadership on both ends of the court," said Dunn. "She will be one of our best 3 point shooters and will lead the way for us with her decision making in transition."

Junior DaVina Hamilton enjoyed a breakout season in 2006-07 with her ability to knock down the outside shot while slashing to the middle. The squad's best defensive player, Hamilton and Omoite form a dynamic duo on both ends of the floor.

"DaVina is working hard to improve her mid-range game and finishing on a consistent basis," Dunn said. "Defensively, I want to see her be more aggressive getting into the passing lanes."

Also causing headaches for opposing teams at the three guard is junior Virginia Gregoire.

A preseason all-A-Sun selection, Gregoire has the ability to shoot the three, drive to the basket with a lightning quick first step and run the floor in transition. Coupled with her quick hands on defense and her abilitiy to lead the break, she is arguably the most complete player in the conference.

"`VG' has the potential to be an excellent player because she is so versatile and has great court vision," said Dunn. "The coaching staff is expecting big things from this young lady. One area that she needs to improve on is consistency on both ends of the floor."

Sophomore Courtney Jackson also returns to the mix after establishing herself as a force off the bench towards the end of the season. A threat from beyond the arc, Jackson established a pull up jumper to go with her 5-10 frame and her defense has improved entering the fall.

"Courtney is picking up where she left off towards the end of season," Dunn said. "She has come back more determined than ever and it has shown since day one. She has to continue to work on her shot selection and defense to be an all around player for us."

If a core of four talented guards weren't enough, the Dolphins will boast two highly touted players from the high school level. Freshman Shunice Hardy, a 6-foot wing player, was ranked the 72nd best senior in the country by Collegiate Girls Basketball Report and was nominated to the McDonald's All-America Team.

'"Shunice is an extremely talented player and has great size on the perimeter," Dunn said. "We are extremely excited about what she can bring to our basketball team. If she will continue to improve her game and mature as a basketball player, the sky is the limit for her."

Freshman Cameo Kent, a 5-foot-8 combo guard, was first team all-state and Stuart News and Palm Beach Post "Player of the Year" after finishing with 15.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game while shooting 30 percent from beyond the arc.

"Cameo is nowhere near the basketball player she could become if she will stay determined and keep working," said Dunn. "She has a strong body that could cause other teams problems on both ends of the court. She will be able to play the combo guard for us which will give her some valuable minutes on our team."

Experience, athleticism and depth will continue to help senior Ashley Williams find opportunities to score around the basket even more in 2007-08.

Williams, who was named preseason MVP by the conference coaches, is poised to shatter the JU record book in her final season. An agile player with the ability to run the floor and play with her back to the basket, Williams is only 13 points shy of becoming the fourth Dolphin to surpass 1,000 points.

"After back to back seasons as first team all-conference, Ashley is obviously one of our go-to players," Dunn said. "She has proven she can score on anybody inside the lane, so one area she has been working to improve is extending the range on her shot. Now when she is getting double and triple teamed down low, she will have the ability to step out and knock down three's."

Sophomores Crystal Grable and Desarae Johnson will also share the majority of minutes at forward.

Grable, who can also play the three guard position, will enter the season in great shape after being slowed by a knee injury last season. One of the most athletic players on the squad, Grable has tremendous leaping ability to go with her hard nose play.

"Grable is the most athletic and versatile person on our team and she will be able to help us inside and out this year," said Dunn. "She has to become a better student of the game to reach her full potential. If she continues to keep working hard and improving each day, she could be a secret weapon."

Johnson has the ability to run the floor, crashes the boards well and is a force defensively with her shot blocking ability.

"Desarae has worked extremely hard over the summer and during preseason to improve her game," Dunn said. "If she learns to slow down and be patient, she has the potential to be one of the top post players in our league."

Joining the trio in the post will be 6-foot freshman Lynsey Paschal. Paschal, who is another highly touted newcomer, was a McDonald's All-America nominee, Atlanta Journal Constitution area "Player of the Year" after averaging 14.7 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.6 steals and 2.4 blocks per game as a senior.

"Lynsey adds a solid force to our post game and is extremely fundamental and intelligent on the court," said Dunn. "She knows how to position herself to be able to make a move and score. She will also make her presence known by rebounding the basketball on both ends of the court."

Although anyone of the forwards could step into the five spot, the Dolphins have a pair of true centers at their disposal.

Sophomore Danielle Gray brings the most experience to the table of the returning freshmen after logging 21 starts last season. Another tremendous worker under the basket, Gray runs the floor well and has a instinct for getting to the free-throw line.

"Danielle is one of our hardest workers on the team," Dunn said. "She has a dominating presence about her but has to learn to finish in the post on a consistent basis. Her biggest strengths are the ability to draw contact, getting to the free throw line and rebounding on both ends of the court."

Rounding out the depth will be the towering presence of freshman Gabby Sermons. At 6-foot-4, Sermons is one of the tallest players to set foot at JU after averaging 14.2 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocks per game as a senior.

"Gabby brings us size in the post that we have not had in the past, Dunn said. "She is improving her intensity on both ends of the court and is learning to adapt to the speed of the college game. She needs to understand how to use her size to her advantage.