Nevada women set for season | NevadaAppeal.com

Nevada women set for season

RENO – Kim Gervasoni’s five-year plan is right on target.

Gervasoni, Nevada’s women’s basketball coach, has the once-moribund program improving steadily. It is Gervasoni’s fourth season at the helm, and she has improved the won-loss record each year. She was 3-26 overall in 2003-04 to 8-22 in 2004-05 and 13-17 last season.

The WAC coaches and media recognize the improvement. The media picked Nevada fourth and the coaches picked the Pack women third. When Gervasoni first came on board, the Pack usually were ranked either ninth or 10th.

“Obviously, I would have liked to won some more games and finish higher in conference,” Gervasoni. “I want to win the conference. I think we’re capable of that. Anything less than third place would be considered a huge disappointment.

“The one thing I’ve noticed about this team is their commitment level to the program; their dedication. The mentality of the program has shifted and changed. The first summer I was head coach, none of the players stayed to work out and go to school. Last year, all the scholarship players stayed.”

The mentality change was never more evident than in the WAC semifinals last year when Nevada stood toe-to-toe with then four-time regular-season championship Louisiana Tech before losing 69-60. In the past, players would have been doing cartwheels over coming that close. Instead, the players were disappointed, unwilling to accept what could be considered a moral victory.

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Brandi Fitzgerald, who led the Pack in scoring last year at 10.8, thinks post-season play is a good possibility.

“I really think it is,” she said. “If we have faith in ourselves and work hard, then I think we’ll be successful and get to where we want to go.”

One key component to Nevada’s success has been the recruiting abilities of Gervasoni and her staff. Last year’s class netted two tremendous players – Fitzgerald, who was named the WAC Newcomer of the Year, and 5-7 point guard Dellena Criner.

Gervasoni has gone to the junior college ranks for two more guards this year – 5-7 point guard Mikail Price from Foothill College and 5-7 Brandi Harris from Barton Community College. Price averaged 18 points a game and was MVP of the conference.

“They are both good, quick players,” Fitzgerald said. “I love playing when they’re on the court.”

The newcomers will team with Criner and senior Traci Graham in the backcourt. Criner averaged 7 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2 assists a game. Graham averaged 8.2 points and 3.1 rebounds a game.

“Playing two point guards at the same time like we did last year, if one got in foul trouble it was tough,” Gervasoni said. “We now have a lot of depth at this position.

“Dellena is the best defender in the conference in my opinion, Traci brings toughness and leadership. She had an incredible off-season.”

Gervasoni said that with four guards, she can rotate them in and out, thereby keeping everybody fresh which is what you need when you play a physical, pressing defense.

Fitzgerald will start at the wing, and she’ll be backed up by Coty Feest (0.4, 0.3) and Bre’Anna Henry (1.3, 1.1). Jessica Preslar (8.2, 5.2) is also capable of playing there, though she will probably see more time at power forward or center.

Cherlanda Franklin, who came on in the latter stages of the season, figures to start, or at least garner a lot of minutes, at power forward. Franklin averaged 5.5 points and 4.1 rebounds a contest, and she is a favorite of Gervasoni’s.

“I love that kid,” Gervasoni said. “She’s always around the ball, and fits into our defensive scheme. She’s definitely in there because of her defensive play. She outworks everybody.”

Franklin became adept last season at draining the 10-to-12-foot jump shot, and once that started happening she became a lot more confident.

Preslar or Sabrina Keys figure to start at center. Keys, a transfer from Purdue, averaged 6.4 points and 4.4 rebounds before suffering a knee injury last year.

“She (Keys) hasn’t been cleared yet,” Gervasoni said. “She’ll have to get into basketball shape. It’s tough. The thing is we want her ready for the conference season.

“Jessica needs to come into the game with an aggressive scoring mentality. She should be one of the top two or three rebounders in the league. That has to be her mentality, going in there and crashing the boards.”

Andrea Sitton (0.8, 1.0) will back up probably at both center and power forward along with redshirt freshman Jessica Harrison.

Gervasoni brought in two freshmen, who have an opportunity to get a lot of minutes immediately. Marianne Lombardi is 6-1 and a good rebounder. Marissa Hammond is 6-3, runs the floor well and faces up well, according to Gervasoni.

Also adding depth in the post is senior Evelina Janisyte, who played in 12 games last year, averaging 0.3 points and 0.8 rebounds a game.

A demanding schedule awaits this group. The schedule isn’t quite as tough as last year’s, but the Pack women will play Colorado, Wyoming, Auburn, Washington, UNLV and UC Irvine in non-conference play not to mention Louisiana Tech and Fresno State in Western Athletic Conference action.

•Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1281