Ambitious schedule pays off for women

Published March 15, 2006

The Big East is one of the most respected conferences in women's basketball, but of four teams that finished with 9-7 league records, only USF made the NCAA Tournament. Pittsburgh, Villanova and Cincinnati settled for the NIT.

So why did Jose Fernandez's squad get the NCAA nod, especially over Pittsburgh, which had a better overall record and swept the Bulls with a pair of two-point buzzer-beater wins? One word: scheduling.

USF's strength of schedule, with nonconference games against North Carolina, LSU and Michigan State, was ranked 23rd nationally, and none of the other three are even in the top 50. The Bulls lost those three games by a combined 82 points, but their aggressiveness in seeking a tough schedule paid off with their first NCAA trip.

"We could have very easily been 22-7, with three ducks," Fernandez said. "I've said it all year long. And our schedule's going to be just as tough next year."

The decision to include USF in the NCAA field did not sit well with Pittsburgh officials. "It's unusual, when you've beaten somebody twice in your conference, that South Florida would get in and we wouldn't," Carol Sprague, a Pitt senior associate athletic director, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

FOOTBALL: Kevin Gundy, who has head coaching experience at the Division II and NAIA levels, is expected to join USF's staff as director of high school relations.

Gundy spent last season as offensive coordinator at Avila University, an NAIA school in Missouri. He also coached at Fort Scott (Kansas) Community College from 1997-2001 and at Division II Quincy University in Illinois from 1991-93.

Gundy will replace former USF lineman Larry Scott, now an offensive graduate assistant.

SHIFTING BACK: After experimenting at center in December, freshman George Selvie will be back at defensive end this spring, competing for a starting position. Instead, the Bulls will let rising sophomore Jake Griffin of Armwood and junior Nick Capogna (Clearwater Central Catholic) compete at center.

USF opens practice Tuesday, with drills wrapping up with the spring game April 15 at Raymond James Stadium. Kickoff hasn't been set, but the game will be broadcast on Bright House Catch 47.

KEEP AN EYE OUT: What Bulls team will be most improved in 2006-07? An early favorite is women's soccer, where coach Logan Fleck is assembling a massive class of speedy additions.

That group includes three transfers in forward Lindsay Brauer, a prolific scorer who sat out last season after Tennessee would not grant her release; midfielder Autumn Browning, who scored 10 goals in two seasons at SMU; and Gillian Fortune, who signed with USF a year ago but played last season at Division II Molloy College in New York.

Add Laura Engel, the player of the year in Colorado, and Apopka standout Kim Newsome (29 goals, 20 assists), and USF should make major strides from a disappointing 2-6-3 record in its first Big East season.

THIS AND THAT: Anthony Paradiso, one of USF's first quarterbacks as the Bulls prepared for their opening season in 1997, was named coach at Crystal River last week. ... Safety Harbor's Golf Strategies will manage USF's golf course, The Claw, for the next five years. That frees men's and women's coaches Jim Fee and Susan Holt to focus full time on the teams. Golf Strategies hasn't decided the scope or cost of any course renovations, but CEO Douglas White said Tuesday that any upgrades wouldn't require the course to be closed. ... Softball has struggled to a 15-13 start, but freshman Ashley Bullion of Crystal River has been a pleasant surprise, tied for second on the team with 15 RBIs entering Tuesday's games. Outfielder Tiffany Stewart (Sickles) was named Big East player of the week after batting .538 last week. The Bulls conclude one home tournament today and host another with five games this weekend.

Greg Auman covers USF athletics. He can be reached at auman@sptimes.com Check out his "USF Bulletin" blog online at www.sptimes.com/blogs/usf