They’re seen as senior leaders for the University of San Diego women’s basketball team, but this week, Dominique Conners, Morgan Woodrow and Izzy Chilcott have demonstrated the energy and enthusiasm of newcomers.
“Woody and I were joking today that this feels like the start of our first season,” said Conners (pictured, right), a 5-foot-8 guard, after a spirited practice on Wednesday. “We’re feeling fresh like it’s the preseason and we’re ready to be let out of the cage, but we’re six months into our last season. I really can’t put into words just how excited I am for the postseason. Everyone talks about it, but you really don’t understand the emotions behind it until you’re actually here.”
The seniors, along with a solid group of young Toreros (22-8 overall record) resume their season at 7 tonight against Cal State Northridge (17-13) at the Jenny Craig Pavilion in a Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT) first-round game. The winner meets the Arizona State-University of the Pacific winner in the second round, which could be played as soon as Sunday.
Tonight’s game in the 64-team WNIT bracket, which was announced March 12, is USD’s first contest since playing BYU in a March 3 West Coast Conference Tournament semifinal. While USD’s 64-46 loss to the Cougars was disappointing — “when we came up a little short that hurt our hearts,” said Conners — those thoughts disappeared upon learning that a WNIT appearance was likely.
“This is a clean slate for us,” said Woodrow, a 6-foot forward, whose 12.9 points-per-game average is second only to Conners’ 16.4. “To get a postseason win would be huge for this program.”
Indeed. The women’s basketball program is 0-4 in postseason games. Tonight’s contest is its first postseason game since facing University of California, Berkeley in the 2008 NCAA Tournament. That year, USD claimed the WCC’s automatic bid by defeating Gonzaga in the tournament championship game at Jenny Craig Pavilion. USD played in the WNIT in 2007, but lost to UC Santa Barbara. Tonight is not only the Toreros’ first postseason game since 2008, but it’s the first one for every Torero player on the current roster.
“This team deserves to play and they’re eager to play,” said Cindy Fisher (pictured, left), who is in her seventh year as head coach. “It starts with our seniors who’ve led us so well all year long. I was talking to Morgan before practice and she said ‘we’re all so excited!’ When your seniors are excited, that trickles down to your younger players and that’s all you can ask for as a coach. It’s a blessing that our seniors get to play more and that they get to do it at home.”
This year’s team has a 12-3 home record and it is one of many examples of a successful season. The team tied for second in the WCC with its highest conference win total (12) in what is likely one of the toughest conference seasons in recent memory. Bolstered by the addition of BYU, four WCC women’s teams advanced to NCAA/WNIT postseason play this year. USD’s 22 regular-season wins are the most by a Fisher-coached team.
Conners, who became the Toreros’ all-time leader for points scored (1,730) in the tournament loss to BYU, needs little to motivate her.
“Our seniors want to keep building on the legacy that we have here and give the underclassmen a taste of postseason success and show what it is to work hard and have it pay off right now,” she said.
Fisher, recently named WCC’s Coach of the Year for the second time, knows the importance of having her seniors extend their season, but she’s equally happy for her freshmen and sophomores to get extra practice time and game experience.
“Postseason basketball is so beneficial to your younger players,” Fisher said. “We took this time (nearly two weeks) to work on fundamentals, the basics, to help our younger players really get back into what we’re looking for and prepare them for the opportunity to play in the postseason, which they will.”
Amy Kame, a sophomore starting guard averaging 11.6 points, is ready.
“I think we can be a really great postseason team. I think having more games with these seniors is an awesome opportunity for all of us to learn and grow, but we’re just excited to be back out on the court together,” she said. “Practices have been intense, fun and competitive. It’s going to be exciting to get back on the court and go after another win.”
Tickets for tonight’s home game are $5 (students) and $10.
— Ryan T. Blystone
Photos courtesy of USD Athletics