After coming off a .500 season and losing their top three scorers and best two rebounders, it would be easy for the Women of Troy to panic looking toward the future.
The USC women’s basketball team approaches the upcoming season as an opportunity to improve and challenge itself everyday, even months before the season begins.
“Winning is a state of mind. It’s an attitude,” USC women’s basketball head coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke said. “I think everything that we’re doing now in strength and conditioning is toward that winning.”
Coming off a 15-15 (7-11 Pac-12) campaign one year ago, in which they fell in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament, the Women of Troy look to return to the conference champion form they were in just two years ago and need to rely on a roster with much turnover.
USC lost several players last season, including graduates Alexyz Vaioletama, the team’s leading scorer averaging 12 points per game, and Kaneisha Horn, an All-Pac-12 Defensive honorable mention selection. The team also lost two transfers and four other players who left the team.
“At the end of the day, it takes experience, the veteran players that we still have helping out the freshmen,” Cooper-Dyke said. “It also takes coaches taking our time to teach players lessons that we want them to know.”
Part of the incoming freshman class ready to make the quick transition to collegiate ball is left-handed New Zealand guard Khaedin Taito, who played for her national team at the under-16, -17 and -18 levels.
Taito is one of four incoming foreign recruits, adding to freshman Australian forward Dani MIlisic and freshman guard Candela Abejón from Spain, as well as Harvard transfer graduate student Temi Fagbenle, from London, England.
“Most of the foreign recruits don’t know about Stanford, they don’t care who Cal is, they’re just coming in as a USC Trojan to beat any opponent they’re going to play against,” Cooper-Dyke said. “It doesn’t matter who you’re facing, if you do what you’re supposed to do and stick to the game plan, you can beat anyone on any given day.”
After opening the first half of last season with a 11-5 record, the Women of Troy went on to drop 10 of the last 14, a tally that Cooper-Dyke realizes cannot be repeated.
“We need to be mentally tougher and be able to endure the season, understanding that our season could end in March or it could end in April,” Cooper-Dyke said. “This offseason we worked a lot on mental toughness, on strengthening and, of course, conditioning.”
Though the season is still months out, the third-year coach said the summer sessions are pivotal for her team to work on their cardiovascular training and learning the heart of her system.
“Some of those small things that end up being important, we want to teach those during the summer access period so that we’re not dealing with those during the season,” Cooper-Dyke said. “During the season we can focus on what offense we’re going to run, what defense we want to run, but the concepts they have down and the terminology they have down.“
As for plans to utilize this new and improved conditioning program,Cooper-Dyke emphasized that her team will be more athletic than in the past and can use its training to get up and down the court more often.
“I love the guard style, but you can’t get out and run unless you’re playing great defense,” Cooper-Dyke said. “We need to get back to our roots and cause some turnovers with our defense and that will allow us to get out on our fast breaks.”
Though some people spent their summers relaxing in various vacation spots, Cooper-Dyke racked up the airline miles traveling to over eight different states ranging from Oregon to South Carolina — but not in search of the perfect beach day.
“Between camps and recruiting and really trying to get the right players for our program, I’ve been doing nothing more than working 24 hours a day,” Cooper-Dyke said.
The Women of Troy look to capitalize on their coach’s pursuit as the team’s quest for a second Pac-12 title continues this winter.