For the first time in six years, the University of Miami women’s basketball team starts the season without a single all-conference player. For so long, coach Katie Meier has been able to rely on the skill and leadership of players such as Shenise Johnson, Riquna Williams, Morgan Stroman, Stefanie Yderstrom.
They delivered, taking the Hurricanes to three consecutive NCAA Tournaments and an NIT the year before that. This year, she needs role players and freshmen to step up.
“We have graduated five pros in two years, and that’s amazing,” Meier said. “Last year’s team was able to answer the bell after losing Shenise and Riquna to the WNBA. Are we going to answer the bell this year? That’s the question.”
The Hurricanes finished 21-11 last season, and were the No. 8 seed in the Iowa City Regional of the NCAA Tournament. This season, they were picked to finish ninth of 15 in the Atlantic Coast Conference preseason poll
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UM lost the three leading scorers from last season — Stroman, Yderstrom and Pepper Wilson. Knowing she needed a special leader to captain this new group, Meier had players apply to be captain.
They had to write an essay, and go through an interview process. Senior guard Krystal Saunders emerged as the overwhelming winner.
Saunders is a 5-8 guard and averaged 6.2 points and 3.2 assists last season.
“I think Krystal is going to have a huge season for us,” Meier said. “She’s ready for it. Krystal and Maria [Brown] have spent a lot of time being the reason other people are successful. They’ve been really great supportive kids and played a certain role, but they’ve got to expand their roles this year or we’re not going to be very successful.
“Krystal knows exactly what we’re thinking, why we’re doing what we’re doing, and she’s always been that way since the moment she stepped on campus.”
Saunders and the team have already faced some adversity even before the season begins. She and three teammates were in a car crash in early July in Fort Lauderdale.
They were on their way to Saunders’ Fort Lauderdale home. The other players in the car were Suriya McGuire, Michelle Woods and Necole Sterlng.
Saunders sustained a concussion. Sterling bit her tongue. McGuire had minor injuries to her ankle, knee and shoulder. Woods, who was sitting in the back seat, sustained the most serious injuries. She got a severe burn from the seat belt and broke her sternum.
Woods underwent chest surgery to have a plate inserted and is out indefinitely.
McGuire’s athleticism will be a big key this year, and sophomore Keyona Hayes and senior Maria Brown also figure to play big roles. Auburn transfer Jassany Williams and Los Angeles native Sterling, who transferred from Gulf Coast Community College, could be impact players. Freshmen to watch are Adrienne Motley, Jessica Thomas and Nigia Greene.
The Canes open the season at home against North Florida on Nov. 8.