Women’s basketball, women’s golf, tennis and track & field joined executive senior associate athletic director Hank Dickenson Wednesday for the North Texas Coaches Caravan to discuss their upcoming seasons and how the pandemic affected the offseason.
Mean Green women’s basketball head coach Jalie Mitchell added two assistants to her coaching staff during the offseason, former North Texas assistant Kelby Jones and former WNBA player Jamie Carey, who previously served as the associate head coach for the University of Texas.
In their time together on the coaching staff at Texas, the program won 95 games in four seasons including two appearances in the NCAA Sweet 16 round.
“[Carey’s] resume speaks for itself,” Mitchell said. “She’s played in the WNBA, coached for USA basketball and did a great job at Texas. While we didn’t work together, we spent time at coaches clinics and recruiting trails. I have a lot of respect for what she brings to the game and what she brings to our young women.”
The 2019-2020 season for North Texas (12-19, 6-12 Conference USA) ended in a 71-67 loss to Charlotte in the conference tournament. The majority of the team from last year will return, with thirteen of the sixteen players on the roster from last year coming back.
Sophomore guard Quincy Noble joined the session with Mitchell and Dickenson where she said training under quarantine measures on an individual basis has challenged her and other teammates.
“It’s tough to get back on a specific schedule, especially this time of year,” Noble said. “Around this time we’d be going into our first practices and getting prepared for the season, without that you think to yourself ‘what do you do?’. It can be tough to push yourself without having the coaches and trainers there keeping you amped up.”
Senior golfer Lauren Cox and the women’s golf team finished the shortened spring season with a tournament win at the Brigham Young Entrada Classic shooting (+11) as a team. Cox completed the final day with a par score, including sophomores Audrey Tan and Patricia Sinolungan, and freshman Marija Jucmane with scores in the top 10.
Cox said she is returning to North Texas while fitting the NCAA guidelines to retain eligibility for athletes whose spring seasons were canceled.
“It was sad to see our season got cut short because I was looking forward to going into conference play to continue our winning streak,” Cox said. “But I am excited again to be coming back.”
Throughout the summer Cox has continued to work on her game and competed in a tournament. She said the usual social aspects of the game with opponents and caddies have changed to incentivize social distancing on the course.
“We didn’t exchange scorecards or shake hands with anyone and there was a volunteer who followed us around to hold the pin and raked the bunkers,” Cox said. “It was definitely different because in golf you usually shake everyone’s hand or give them a hug and say ‘thanks for the round’.”
As mentioned in last week’s session, men and women’s golf will open the on-campus Bruzzy’s golf practice facility in the fall. The facility is currently under construction while courtesy of a $1.5 million donation from Jerome “Bruzzy” Westheimer.
“We usually never see [the men’s team] and this will give both teams a better chance to bond more,” head coach Michael Akers said. “Being on campus and having this close to the dorms will make our recruits’ eyes light up. To be able to walk out the door over to practice and workout with the dining hall close is a home run for our recruiting. We also still have access to great golf courses in the DFW area. But having the facility is huge.”
North Texas tennis was competing in Hawaii when the news broke of their season coming to an end. With a (7-7, 2-2 Conference USA) record, head coach Sujay Lama said he felt the team was heading in the right direction in the middle part of the season.
“We were starting to find our rhythm after a good start,” Lama said. “Throughout the matches we lost, we had a match point or served for the match. As young as the team was this year, we were turning the corner and it was a matter of time. It was disappointing because we felt like our best was yet to come and the fact that we were hosting the conference would give us a shot at the conference title.”
Senior Nidhi Surapaneni in the spring posted a (19-12) singles record and (16-8) doubles record, including a (5-0) singles record during conference play.
While looking for a new partner last season, Surapaneni chose then-sophomore Maria Ponomareva to put up a (9-3) record in dual doubles’ matches.
“[Lama] knew I was having a hard time finding a partner I could get connected to and I feel like I found one where both of our styles work together,” Surapaneni said. “[Pomonareva] is my partner and we both did very well in doubles together. I’m happy to have her.”
“At first we were concerned about what was going to happen and it was nice at the time when everyone was still in town to go out and practice on our own in various places,” Bouchard said. “Later we realized things weren’t going back to normal very quickly.”
“We were sad to see [Lussey] leave, he returned back home to Switzerland and graduated,” Williams said. “To see his level of seriousness he brought to running and how much he treated it like a lifestyle rather than just punching in and out.”
Williams said the team has communicated well but he still misses the human aspect to communicating face to face with the athletes.
“In some sense, it’s good to keep track with everyone through texting, email and Zoom calls,” Williams said. “But it is different by not being able to look a kid in the eyes to see if they’re stressed or see what they’re going through. This is a tight-knit group and I think that’s what got them through it.”
The final virtual North Texas Coaches Caravan will go live on Facebook July 8 at 7 p.m. on the Mean Green Athletics’ Facebook page. Softball, track & field and North Texas athletics vice president and director Wren Baker will be the guest speakers next week.
Courtesy 2020 Coaches Caravan Livestream