By: Shaela Foster
Women’s Basketball Favored as First in Preseason Poll
The University of Tampa women’s Basketball team is ranked first in the Sunshine State Conference (SSC) Preseason Poll.
After going undefeated in the seven games last season and winning the SSC conference title, the Spartans are favored to retake the crown.
“It feels good, but we still need to play with a chip on our shoulders,” said Mya Guisto, guard. “We just need to take it one game at a time and one win at a time.”
Last year’s title victory was the sixth SSC tournament championship they have won in school history, but the first since 2015-16. Since there was no regular-season champion crowned last season due to COVID-19, the Spartans are the defending regular-season champs finishing the 2019-20 season, 19-1.
Before matching up with any team, they make sure they are both mentally and physically prepared.
“Scouting report is the number one thing he [the coach] stresses,” said LaShayla Wright-Ponder, forward. “You’ve got to study that to know your opponents and what they’re going to do.”
Pre-game studying is essential for an excellent team to flourish. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of a team and capitalizing on them is a crucial attribute for the Spartans.
In addition to being ranked first in the preseason conference poll, they were ranked 11th in the WBCA Preseason Coaches’ Poll, the highest preseason ranking in program history.
Although the rankings are high for the Spartans, they know competition won’t be easy.
“Everybody wants to beat Tampa, so we have to come, show them, and prove to them why we are the eleventh team in the nation and the number one preseason conference team,” said Aliyah Abney, guard. “Nobody is scared of us; nobody wants to lose against us because they have something to prove.”
They began their non-conference games last weekend at Montana’s D2CCA Tip-Off Classic, where they finished 1-2.
Following that weekend, Melijah Sullivan, guard, became the SSC Offensive Player of the Week, the first SSC honors of the season. This award is the third of her career.
During the tournament, she averaged 16.67 points and five rebounds in the three games. She also recorded 15 rebounds, seven assists, and two blocks in her 86 minutes of play.
“She’s a very unselfish player,” said Wright-Ponder. “She wants to make her teammates better. She’s our leading scorer right now.”
Sullivan currently averages 16.7 points per game, with Dori Nagy behind her with 13.7 points.
With the addition of transfers and first-year students, UT has more depth than ever.
“Our biggest strength is our depth. We’re loaded at the 1-5, multiple people at each position that could start on any given night,” said Guisto. “That makes us dangerous.”
The Spartans prided themselves on being a team. Their team culture has been a critical part of their success throughout the years. In addition, they consider themselves one big family because they look out for each other both on and off the court.
“Most of us, this is our last year. So this is the year actually to do something in the conference and the nation,” said Abney. “There hasn’t been anyone in the SSC to win a women’s basketball national championship. So we want to be the first team to do it.”
With all odds pointed in UT’s favor, they look to take the conference by storm. They have already won their non-conference games in the Tampa Classic, beating West Alabama 71-52 and Union 77-67.