Photo courtesy of goxavier.com | Seniors Anniina Äijänen (left) and Jada Byrd (right) look to provide veteran leadership for Xavier and take advantage of a strong offseason.
After landing a strong recruiting class, head coach Brian Neal and the women’s basketball team look to bounce back from a 12-18 record (4-14 in conference).
This team includes six incoming freshmen who provide depth and talent that was not as present last season.
“We have nine freshmen and sophomores that are coachable and ask questions,” Neal said.
He mentioned that he wants to keep concepts simple and add more as the year goes on.
However, Neal noted on media day that he expects the seniors to really make a difference. With regard to seniors Jada Byrd and Anniina Äijänen, Neal commented, “Those two in particular have had really good springs and summers.”
The team starts the season with an 11-game non-conference schedule, which includes an away game at Minnesota and home games against Wake Forest and Cincinnati. In addition, the team will play in the Florida Tournament, which features another out-of-conference game against Missouri.
This will certainly test the chemistry of the new team, in which only one starter from last season, junior guard Kendall Fincher, returns.
Although multiple rotation players from last season are back, most of players on the team are underclassmen, which could cause chemistry issues. This tough set of games early in the season may help accelerate the process.
After the non-conference slate, Big East play doesn’t get much easier. In the preseason coaches poll, Xavier was picked to finish last in the conference. However, this may be a testament to the strength of the conference, rather than an indictment of the women’s basketball program.
“This may be the deepest the Big East has ever been,” Neal said. “There’s so many different styles of play.”
They open with three consecutive road games in conference play at Butler, Georgetown and Villanova, all to be played within eight days of each other.
Xavier then gets two home games against two middle-of-the-road teams, Seton Hall and St. John’s.
Afterward the Musketeers are on the road for possibly their toughest two-game stretch of the season against projected conference frontrunners DePaul and Marquette on a Friday and Sunday, respectively.
The Musketeers then host four games in a row. In that time frame, they play Providence, Creighton, Villanova and Georgetown.
Next, they hit the road again for two games to face Seton Hall and St. John’s. After, the team faces Marquette and DePaul again, this time at Cintas.
The team goes on its final road trip of the season to face Creighton and Providence before returning home to play its final regular season game against Butler.
The Big East tournament starts shortly after, and if the Musketeers perform well enough, they could make the NCAA tournament this year.
By: Donnie Menke ~Staff Writer~