Fresno State’s women’s basketball team has three weeks until its regular-season opener, with coach Jaime White using every meeting, practice and exhibition until then to tinker with her puzzle pieces in search of the right fit.
It’ll be a tough job for the second-year coach, who lost three key players, including her two leading scorers, from the 2014-15 team that finished third in the Mountain West, lost in a semifinal of the conference tournament, then finished 23-10 overall after losing in the second round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
Gone are Alex Sheedy, Robin Draper and Raven Fox, who as seniors each averaged more than 24.5 minutes per game. The Bulldogs also lost would-be junior Natascha Hartvich, who transferred to NAIA school Vanguard.
Sheedy, the co-Mountain West Player of the Year, led the team in scoring at 15.9 points per game. She and Draper started all but two games last season.
Fox started just 15 games a year ago, but was the team’s clear first choice off the bench and was second in scoring at 8.8 points per game. She led in assists (2.4 per game) and steals (73) while earning conference Sixth Player of the Year honors.
24.7 Combined scoring average for departed seniors Alex Sheedy and Raven Fox
Fresno State does have a trio of returning starters – 5-foot-5 guard Alex Furr, 6-0 forward/center Toni Smith and 5-4 guard Shauqunna Collins, all seniors – as well as seasoned veterans in 5-10 senior Moriah Faulk, 6-3 sophomore Bego Faz Davalos, 5-11 junior Emilie Volk, 5-9 senior Brittany Aikens and 5-9 junior Janae Blount, who is eligible after taking a medical redshirt last season.
“All those guys will be able to give us what they gave us last year, if not more,” White said.
Smith, Collins, and Volk looked much stronger at practice than they did at this point last year. Davalos was well-conditioned in the workouts, running the court with speed and ease after having spent her summer playing with Mexico at the World University Games. She averaged 10.8 points and 10.3 rebounds in six games at the tournament in South Korea.
Nov. 13 Fresno State’s regular season opener, at UC Riverside
White said Davalos and Smith will be staples defensively, and “we’ll see where everybody else fits in the puzzle.”
Those pieces include seven newcomers – three transfers and four freshmen.
“With seven new kids we’re really trying to get our stuff in and get them reps and what we’re wanting to teach this year,” White said. “The hard part with seven new kids is we’re also trying to decide what they do best and what we really want to focus on for them.”
Fresno State’s opener is Nov. 13 at UC Riverside. The Bulldogs host Cal State East Bay in a Nov. 6 exhibition at Save Mart Center.
The reality is they have to play. I think the race is on a little bit.
Fresno State women’s basketball coach Jaime White on seven players new to the roster this season and how she will fit them on the court
“The reality is they have to play,” White said. “I think the race is on a little bit.”
At 6-2, Anais Kirvan, an Australian out of Vincennes (Indiana) JC is the tallest of the new Bulldogs.
Fellow junior transfer Kendra Martin from Chipola College in Marianna, Fla., is showing versatility at 5-11 and can be used at guard and forward. Last season, Martin helped the Indians to a 34-1 record and the program’s first National Junior College Athletic Association title. The team’s third transfer, Tory Jacobs, a sophomore who played at Minnesota, will sit out this season per NCAA transfer rules.
The freshmen are Breanne Knishka, a 5-10 forward/guard from Washington; Zaria Branch, a 5-10 all-state guard out of Mt. Miguel-Spring Valley; Raven Johnson, a 5-11 guard from Dallas powerhouse Skyline, which won three consecutive district titles; and the squad’s only San Joaquin Valley native, Candice White of Modesto Christian. White, who averaged 17.4 points and 8.1 rebounds as a senior, led the Crusaders to consecutive Sac-Joaquin Section D-III and D-II titles.
As a coaching staff, we’ve said we don’t want just one person (to be the star), we want everyone to chip in, to become even a better team.
White on the Bulldogs’ team concept
“It wasn’t nearly as puzzle-pieced (last season) as it is this year, but that’s part of our job,” White said. “We’re going to fit the pieces of the puzzle together and go from there.”
Bulldog Basketball Community Night
- When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday
- Where: Save Mart Center
- Of note: Fans can shoot around with players from the men’s and women’s programs. Parking and admission is free. Posters will be handed out for an autograph session with players.