Women of Troy to begin year in top-25

For the first time since 2006, the USC women’s basketball team has landed in the preseason Associated Press top-25 poll.

Returning its core group of players from last season, which includes senior guards Jacki Gemelos, Briana Gilbreath and Ashley Corral, junior forward Christina Marinacci and sophomore forward Cassie Harberts, No. 23 USC enters the 2011-12 season after advancing to last year’s Women’s National Invitational Tournament title game.

Stars and stripes · Senior guard Jackie Gemelos helped Team USA win gold at the World University Games last summer in China. - Daily Trojan file photo

“It’s obviously great for our program to be ranked among the top 25 teams in the country,” USC coach Michael Cooper said in a statement. “I think the rankings are reflecting what we’ve done in the past two years, and it’s an honor to be ranked. But we still have some steps to take to really solidify ourselves.”

Despite posting a 19-12 record in the regular season, the Women of Troy were not selected for the NCAA tournament. USC, however, still advanced to the WNIT title game before falling to Toledo.

“We’re really happy where we’re at right now,” Gilbreath said. “That postseason experience was great for us. We built a lot of team chemistry and bonded a lot.”

The Women of Troy have plenty of experience and their incoming recruiting class was ranked No. 8 in the nation, featuring guards Ariya Cook and Kiki Alofaituli, and forwards Deanna Calhoun and Alexyz Vaioletama.

“The group as a whole is a very, very strong recruiting class,” Gilbreath said. “They’re definitely bringing a lot of talent to our team and they’re going to do a great job for us this year.”

The Women of Troy were also picked to finish second in the Pac-12 Coaches Poll, while Stanford received the most votes for the top spot, California came in third and UCLA was selected to finish fourth.

In 2006, USC’s last appearance in the NCAA tournament, the Women of Troy held down the No. 19 spot in the Associated Press top-25 poll after a season-opening win. They opened the season No. 22 in the preseason poll that same year.

“I think it’s where we belong,” Corral said. “We can definitely build on it, though. It proves we have been working hard and our postseason push last year is exactly what we needed to be confident going into this season.”