State Colleges

Small schools preview: Challenges await Nova women’s basketball team

Jasmine Wilkins and Jessica Valley, two players returning from ACL injuries, might hold the key to the women’s basketball season at Nova Southeastern University.

The Sharks reached the Elite Eight of the 2013 NCAA Division II national championships, but they graduated starting guards Meixandra Porter and Tailor Jones. Porter led the team in scoring (17.1) and steals (77), and Jones was fourth in points (10.5) and first in rebounds (6.0).

But in Wilkins and Valley, the Sharks could have ready-made replacements.

Wilkins was a two-year Nova starter before getting injured prior to last season. The 5-10 junior forward averaged 9.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.6 blocks as a sophomore.

“We missed her last year,” Nova coach LeAnn Freeland said. “She is our best vocal leader, and now she is back to where she was before she got hurt.”

Valley, a 5-9 junior guard, started 16 games at Division I Indiana State last season before sustaining an ACL injury for the second consecutive year. And because Valley didn’t get injured until January, she is not as far along in her recovery as Wilkins. Freeland, though, said Valley, who averaged 4.0 points and 6.6 rebounds last season, has been “looking strong.”

Indeed, Valley had an impressive offseason — and it had nothing to do with basketball. She spent three weeks in Africa teaching villagers how to purify water.

The Sharks, meanwhile, return three starters, including 5-8 junior guard Danielle Robinson, who was the Sunshine State Conference’s Co-Defensive Player of the Year.

Nova also returns 5-11 senior guard Jessica Russi, who led the league in assists (5.2), and 6-0 senior guard Amanda Burakoski, a St. John’s transfer who was second in the league in field goal percentage (49.4) and fourth in three-point shooting (38.5).

Freeland wants Russi, who averaged 4.8 points, to look for her shot more, and she saw some evidence of that wish coming true in the offseason.

Robinson, who was fifth in the league in scoring (14.1), came to Nova as a defensive-minded player but has developed her all-around game. And Freeland believes Burakoski has “another level” to get to in her evolvement as a player.

Taylor Buie, a 5-5 sophomore, will compete for minutes after she was fifth on the team in scoring (7.9) last season. She started nine games and appeared in all 32 for Nova.

Freeland said the team’s most improved player is 5-11 senior forward Richelle Carach, who averaged 5.4 points and 4.2 rebounds in 29 games last season, including four starts.

“Ricky has changed her diet and is in the best condition of her life,” Freeland said. “Since she is a senior, you sense a real sense of urgency with her.”

Freeland hopes that is true with her entire team.

“We want to make sure we’re still not celebrating last season,” she said. “I think this team has tremendous potential. We don’t have as much experience as last year, but I think we will be playing our best ball at the end of the season.”

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