TAMPA, Fla. - The injury bug bit the USF women's basketball team hard last year. Still, head coach Jose Fernandez was able to guide the Bulls to their eighth straight postseason appearance.
"There were so many expectations last year," said Fernandez. "We go into the preseason and we're 15th, 17th in the country. It's not what we expected. I think it was a great a great life lesson for our players."
It was a life lesson in expecting the unexpected. When the team's top-scorer, Kitija Laksa went down for the season in November, Enna Pehadzic stepped in as a sophomore.
"Last year, we got a lot of experience," said Pehadzic. "I mean, I feel like you can't take that for granted. It was a great opportunity and a lot of people got the opportunity to improve and play. That's something we can use for this year, as well."
And the end of the season, she found herself as the Bulls leader in both scoring (422) and minutes played (986).
The Bulls return all but two of their key playmakers from last season. It's a young group, led by the lone senior, Tamara Henshaw.
Following tradition, Coach Fernandez put together one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the nation as they look ahead to next week's season opener.
"Coach never puts us in a position that he doesn't think we can succeed in," said Henshaw. "He gives us a great schedule because knows that we have great people that came back and we have great people that came in."
Their non-conference schedule includes four teams from the preseason top 25, and the two last national champions: Baylor and Notre Dame.
"I knew who we had coming back, and I knew who we signed. I knew who was going to get healthy again," said Fernandez. "That's why we schedule the way that we schedule. You look up and down, I mean we're going to be tested in November and December all sorts of ways to lead us into January and February, into league play."
After snapping a streak of five-straight NCAA tournament appearances, the Bulls are back, healthier than ever. USF was picked to finish 2nd in the preseason American Athletic Conference's coaches poll.
The Bulls open their season November 5 against Jacksonville at the Yuengling Center. Tip-off is set for 5:30 p.m.