Miami women ready to begin new chapter
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) -- In the moment where last season ended for Miami, this season started.
It all happened in Spokane, Wash. last March, when the Hurricanes were beaten at Gonzaga in the second round of the NCAA tournament. By the time Miami coach Katie Meier entered the locker room after that game, two people in there were already lecturing others about how tears and disappointment would not be tolerated.
Those two people were Shenise Johnson, arguably the best player in Miami history, and Sylvia Bullock -- players whose college careers had just ended.
"I didn't have to say a word," Meier said. "It was a great year in that moment. They were like, `Get your shoulders back. No one cries in this locker room. We're proud of you.' I wouldn't have been that strong."
So Meier dried her own tears and started thinking about the program's next chapter, which starts Friday night when the 24th-ranked Hurricanes open a new season at home against North Florida. And there's plenty of talent back from the team that won 26 games a season ago, including senior guard Stefanie Yderstrom, who will likely take over the scoring load.
"I feel like people are definitely going to underestimate us," Yderstrom said.
There is a reason why she thinks that way, and why she might be right.
The best two players on last year's team were Johnson and Riquna Williams, classmates who formed one of the most dazzling backcourts in the nation and combined to score more than 1,000 points last season alone. But their time together ended before anyone envisioned it would, when Williams was kept away from the team for the NCAA tournament because of conduct detrimental to the program.
When Miami lost gritty forward Morgan Stroman last season to an Achilles' tear, the Hurricanes knew their national-title chances were, at best, slim. Without Stroman and Williams, that title shot was gone. And the best Miami team in 20 years didn't get past the second round of the NCAAs.
A new season awaits, and the Hurricanes believe they're far from starting over.
"Any team that lost two All-Americans and two would-have-been, top-10 draft picks and another three-year starter and still finds themselves ranked in the Top 25 is a damn good program," Meier said. "For Miami to lose that and still be ranked, it's a big statement."
The growing pains that come without having the stars from a year ago, Meier hopes, have already come and gone.
Her practices are intense and high-energy is demanded. Meier charts plenty of stats, including points-per-possession in certain drills in practice, with one point on each trip being the goal. After one 10-possession drill in camp this year, her team managed only three points.
The whistle blew. The screaming started.
"I had my moment," Meier said. "I stopped them and said, `This is it. You are the only people in the gym. You have to figure this out."'
The drill was done again, with 16 points in those ensuing 10 possessions. Message received.
"I've been here three years," Yderstrom said. "By now, I know what Coach Meier wants."
Picked sixth in the Atlantic Coast Conference's preseason poll -- "fair," Meier said -- it's clear that some people expect the Hurricanes to remain strong. They carry a 40-game home winning streak into Friday's opener, and it would be a shock if that streak wasn't up to 41 games when Miami plays host to Tennessee in an early season showdown on Nov. 18.
Yderstrom -- who has 168 3-pointers in her Miami career -- will become the focal point of the offense, with help from Stroman (who's recovered from the Achilles tear) and 6-foot-6 center Pepper Wilson.
"The foundation is here," Meier said. "We'll shift the formula a little bit this year and play a different style, but still the same mentality."
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)