TAMPA – The University of South Florida’s women’s basketball team (23-13) finished with an outstanding run, reaching the WNIT semifinals. Coach Jose Fernandez predicted prosperity for the Bulls in 2014-15, saying he expects USF to earn an NCAA tournament bid in the same season when the school serves as host institution for the Women’s Final Four in Tampa.
The Bulls will lose just two seniors.
But those seniors – guard Inga Orekhova and center Akila McDonald – made their mark and will be greatly missed.
McDonald (6.5 points per game and 5.6 rebounds) provided the inside grit. Orekhova (11.6 points, 81 3-pointers, 4.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, school-record 89-percent from the foul line) was best known as an outstanding outside shooter, but matured into an all-around performer.
Speaking of maturity, Fernandez said that quality also applied to McDonald.
“As a junior, I had to move her back on campus like a little kid and put her in the dorms because she wasn’t doing well academically,’’ Fernandez said. “Now she’s going to graduate. To see someone coming in as an immature freshman girl, then leaving as a grown woman, that’s awesome to see.’’
Meanwhile, Orekhova finished with 1,072 career points, good for 15th-place on USF’s all-time scoring list, in three seasons.
“It has been wonderful to have Inga here,’’ Fernandez said. “She had a huge impact on our program because of what she can do on the floor and she will be very successful after here playing professionally. We’re definitely going to miss her as a player and as a person.’’
Orekhova and McDonald contributed to three consecutive postseason teams, including the 2013 Bulls, who reached the NCAA tournament’s second round and nearly earned a Sweet 16 berth.
Stampede of Champions
The second annual Stampede of Champions, a Hollywood-style show that determined award winners by vote of USF athletes and coaches, was held last weekend. The biggest awards were won by men’s golf (Team of the Year, 2013 Big East champion); Matthew O’Neal (Male Athlete of the Year, men’s soccer starter, track and field triple-jump All-American); Erin Fairs (Female Athlete of the Year, American Athletic Conference volleyball player of the year); Ken Eriksen (Coach of the Year, softball); and softball pitcher Sam Greiner (Lee Roy Selmon Award, representing integrity, academic excellence, compassion and competitiveness).
Other winners: Samuel Hosseini (Best Performance, bicycle-kick goal against Florida Gulf Coast, men’s soccer); Lindo Mfeka (Male Newcomer, men’s soccer); Lee Ann Spivey (Female Newcomer, softball); Abby Ritter (USF Spirit Award, women’s cross country); women’s tennis (Team Sportsmanship); Courtney Williams (Most Improved Student-Athlete, women’s basketball); men’s soccer (Moment of the Year, winning AAC tournament); women’s soccer (Best Comeback, beating UConn 3-2 in double overtime); baseball (Team Community Award); Derek Messmore (Male Scholar of the Year, track and field); Mallory Johnson (Female Scholar of the Year, track and field); Neena Pacholke (Unsung Hero, women’s basketball); and William Reeves (Staff Member of the Year).
It was a rough weekend for baseball and softball. Lelo Prado’s baseball team (18-14, 5-4 AAC) dropped two of three at home against UCF, making the seven-game winning streak to start the season just a distant memory. The Bulls have lost seven of their past 10 games. If they don’t get hot – and quickly – the Bulls will need to win the AAC tournament to reach the program’s first NCAA Regional since 2002. Meanwhile, Ken Eriksen’s softball team (29-11, 3-3 AAC) was swept at home by Louisville. …Baseball RHP Casey Mulholland was named to the AAC honor roll after a 120-pitch, complete-game victory against UCF. …Men’s basketball coach Orlando Antigua, the former Kentucky assistant, reported for his first day at USF about 36 hours after the Wildcats lost to UConn in the national-title game. …After so much uncertainty with the collapse of the old Big East, USF has to be feeling great about its new conference home in the AAC. The first-year league has a BCS bowl victory (UCF over Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl), plus national titles in men’s and women’s basketball (both by UConn). …Women’s tennis (15-3) completed an unbeaten home season with a 4-1 victory against Georgia State. The Bulls, winners of 12 straight matches, the program’s longest streak in 25 years, host the AAC championships beginning next Thursday.