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Banged up SJU women hoping for improvement

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Is there a trainer in the house?

The St. John’s women’s basketball team has its collective share of bumps and bruises and the new season hasn’t started yet. For a team that took its lumps on the court last season (8-20, 3-13 in the Big East), getting and staying healthy may be the difference between a repeat of last season and an improved record in 2001.

The backcourt is peppered with injuries. Return dates are undetermined for guards Reka Szavuly and Telisha Warner, both recovering from knee surgery. Guard Danielle Rainey (ankle sprain), a junior college transfer and potential starting point guard Nora Gyuris (stress fracture) are almost ready to return, but may need time to get rolling.

Adding to the Red Storm’s roster woes is the suspension of senior guard Rasheedah Brown for an unspecified violation of team rules. Brown will be missed most of all. The team’s leading scorer from last season is eligible to return on Dec. 26, in time for the LaSalle Tournament in Philadelphia, PA.

Third-year head coach Darcel Estep brings discipline and intensity to the St. John’s sidelines, but realizes her young team needs time to develop. The injuries will push some to develop sooner.

“This is a young team and we’re facing some major situations early on,” Estep said. “We will have to learn to deal with adversity. Time is only going to help our development.”

The absence of key players will create more minutes for others, particularly sophomore guards Sherri Brown and local product Shemika Stevens. Brown, who played in all 28 games last season, and Stevens have the potential to score. The backcourt will be the team’s main source of points, especially if healthy.

Several newcomers will help fill holes and add an element of intrigue. Katalin Kurtosi and Patrycja Gulak, a pair of 6-foot-4 centers, will add much-needed size in the paint. They will be joined up front by forwards Creasie Fowler and Amanda Rawson.

Forward Kenyawna Hudgens, a solid two-way player, and guards Mary Pat Statler and Szavuly — if healthy — will give Estep options off the bench. Gulak’s ability to play in the paint and on the perimeter makes her the sleeper of the bunch. She averaged 14 points and nine rebounds per game for the Polish Junior National Team in 2000.

“Right now the offense comes from the guards,” Estep said. “The post players are getting used to the system. We are working on establishing a balanced attack.”

On the flip side, three significant losses to graduation are guard Latasha Thompson, center Tynisha Myles and forward Katrina Johns. St. John’s will miss Thompson’s scoring and the rebounding ability of Myles and Johns.

The young team will be put to the test in the Big East. The conference is loaded, with defending national champion Notre Dame and eight-time conference champion Connecticut at the front of the pack. National standouts such as Rutgers, Boston College and Villanova make the conference downright scary.

A sign of the heavy competition, St. John’s has been picked to finish in 13th place by the Big East pre-season coaches’ poll. Nevertheless, confidence bounces around Alumni Hall like a basketball despite the early season concerns.

“The ultimate dream for any coach is to be in such a great conference,” Estep said. “As far as the players, we feel that every player in this program wants to compete against the best.”

St. John’s will compete if its guards can score and the young frontcourt hits the boards. To improve on last season’s record, however, the team must take after its coach and play with intensity and discipline. The first chance to answer all challenges comes in the season opener at Marist this week.

“The new players are going to learn that it’s hard competing in the Big East,” sophomore Gyuris said. “We are going to have to work hard to get a better position in the conference.”

The Red Storm will participate in three four-team tournaments before facing the daunting task of playing its conference schedule. The St. John’s Thanksgiving Tournament at Alumni Hall will feature locals Hofstra (the first-round opponent) and Fordham. The Red Storm travels to the University of Kansas for another tourney test before participating in the LaSalle Tournament late inDecember.

If St. John’s can bag a few non-conference wins, an improvement on last season’s losing record is possible. Considering the strength of the conference, a win total in the teens would be a significant accomplishment.

Reach contributing writer Adam Martini by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.

Posted 7:28 pm, October 10, 2011
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