Ten minutes before practice, the CSUN women’s basketball team has already taken the court. The players execute a shooting drill as coaches prepare for an intra-squad scrimmage. A photographer snaps player portraits under a basket.
The only thing missing from the activity is head coach Jason Flowers. Yet, from the player’s attitudes to the copy of John Wooden’s “Pyramid of Success” taped to a whiteboard, his presence can be felt everywhere.
“Coach Flowers has a saying, ‘I can’t hear what you’re saying because your actions speak so loudly,’” said senior forward Analee Viena-Lota. “This year, the difference is the intensity of practice every day.”
After finishing with just four wins last season, the Matadors are hoping to rebuild a program projected to finish ninth in the Big West Conference by a survey of media members.
From the first day of practice, new head coach Flowers has emphasized fundamentals and conditioning as keys to success.
“Last year, we would lift twice a week and condition twice,” said Viena-Lota, who finished among the team leaders in rebounds and points scored. “Now, we work on conditioning every day.”
The entire practice is structured to simulate the conditioning needed for a game. Players still work on game-specific drills, but by transitioning quickly between stations, they increase their cardio as well, Viena-Lota said.
That extra energy will be needed to play a new system based on effort and speed. The Matadors will look to play a high-pressure defense that forces turnovers and bad shots. Rebounds will result easy scoring opportunities, led by players such as sophomore guard Janelle Nomura, who was named to the All-Big West Freshman Team in 2009-10, and senior second-year guard Anna Simmons.
“I’m really excited because that’s been my game my whole life,” Simmons said. “We’re going to push it up and get defenses off guard so they don’t know what to expect.”
Learning to execute the transition game will be one of the goals for CSUN this season, Viena-Lota said. Last year, the team was paced by junior center Jasmine Erving, who was named to the All-Big West Second Team. The Matadors’ offense was based on setting up plays for front-court players like graduated forward Katrina Thompson and Erving, who led the team in scoring with 13.6 points per game.
“Some players are used to going to a position, not running from rim to rim,” Simmons said.
The new high-tempo style will be more exciting for fans who come to the Matadome, said several players. The Matadors will open the 2010-11 season at home against Pepperdine on Nov. 17 before traveling to Hawai’i for the Jack in the Box Rainbow Wahine Classic.
The hard work in preseason practice will benefit come game time.
“We’re slowly getting used to the demands (of the coaches),” said junior guard Bridgette Conejo. “We know the games will be easier than our practices.”
So far, the players are saying all the right things for a team expecting to improve on last season’s record. But Flowers’ message has reached his players. They know they will be judged on results and effort, not soundbytes.
“Run. Rebound. Defend,” Conejo said. “If we do that, we can compete with anyone for 40 minutes.”