Richmond, VA— It is no secret that Dayton has been one of the women’s basketball powerhouses in the Atlantic 10 and a team many look at as a model for success.
Under second-year coach Shauna Green, this has not changed as the Flyers are coming off an Atlantic 10 Championship title and automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Given Dayton’s reputation, a 3-6 record with a new coach put the team to the test. Green was hired later in the offseason and there was certainly a feeling out process from both sides.
Granted, Green was an assistant coach on the 2014-15 Dayton team which made the Elite Eight, but after a year at Northwestern, it was about sticking to her principles.
A year ago at Atlantic 10 Women’s Basketball Media Day, sleep was not really in Green’s vocabulary and she stated she was living in a suitcase.
Now, Green has her team embracing each other while combining the expectations with the idea of just having fun.
“It was always about what we do, who we are, this is our identity and going and doing it as hard as we can and as together as we possibly can,” Green said. “That’s going to be our same mindset, to take it one game at a time. We like to have fun at practice and I think I have them believing now that if you work really hard and you do it together, that that’s fun. I really like our mindset and just we’re at mentally really. When October can be that grind, they are enjoying coming into practice. Our practices are full of life and I don’t know if this will translate to wins, but I really like where we’re at.”
Last year at this time, Dayton was trying to figure things out under Green but now doing a 6 a.m. outdoor Marines training session in 40-degree weather in which communication, togetherness and leadership skills were key.
From a player standpoint, Jenna Burdette (12.0 ppg/4.7 apg) will be a key returner who is looking to continue impacting Dayton in her senior year.
Burdette has let her consistent play do all of the talking and A-10 coaches have recognized her efforts by naming her to the Atlantic 10 Preseason All-Conference First Team.
“She started on our Elite Eight team as a freshman and her growth has been just substantial. What I am most proud about Jenna is her growth as a leader,” said Green. “You see Jenna and she’s not that vocal. She’s very quiet and reserved, but the girl wants to win, she just goes about it a different way. She’s really trying to step outside of her comfort zone in terms of being a vocal leader and taking the team to where we need it to be.”
Another key returner is redshirt senior Alex Harris who was named to the Atlantic 10 Preseason All-Defensive Team. She also averaged 10.67 rebounds in three Atlantic 10 Championship games last season. She consistently was a rebounding force on both sides of the ball. Additionally, Harris averaged 1.9 blocks per-game.
Also among key returners this season are JaVonna Layfield (8.3 ppg/7.6 rpg), Lauren Cannatelli (7.3 ppg/51 3-point baskets/87.2 FT%) and Jayla Scaife (6.1 ppg).
Among the new faces is junior transfer Tiaera Phillips. Phillips last appeared and Chipola college averaging 10.6 points and 5.9 rebounds per-game. With Dayton having lost Kelley Austria to graduation, Phillips can fill that role as she is a bigger wing who takes pride in her defense. Green not only appreciates that tenacity but the pride she has as well.
Additionally, sophomore Brittany Boyd will be eligible to play the second half of this upcoming season. She transferred from Butler and has been with Dayton since January.
“We recruited out of high school so I’ve known her for forever,” Green said. “The thing about her is that she gives us more versatility, she’s a bigger guard that can go play the four or play the wing. She’s not afraid to get in there, be physical and knock people around. We may not be as big as we were last year, so that’s where you need some of that toughness and grit and that’s what I really like about her.”
The third and final face, junior Shakeela Fowler is out for the season with a torn ACL.
Dayton was predicted to place first in the Atlantic 10 Preseason Poll, but Green does not put too much stock on it, and downplayed the honor.
Green conceded that the preseason poll was more reflective on last season, contending that her team lost four players, two of which were starters. This did not stop her from praising a conference which has strengthened after a challenging season last year.
“I think from top to bottom there is a lot of parity,” said Green. “Going 1-14 and maybe this is me as a paranoid coach, you go in to the 14 team and I think they can beat us. I just have so much respect for the coaches in terms of the preparations, scouts and knowing each other so well. This is not going to be an easy conference.”
To prepare for conference play, Green has provided Dayton’s toughest-ever schedule in terms of RPI. While there is not the big name that UConn, there are several top mid-major teams that are regularly picked to win their conference.
“We know we have to play the best non-conference we can in order to position ourselves for an at-large because it is so so hard to get that AQ,” Green said. “Now we’ve just got to win the games.”