Although head coach Gail Goestenkors was prepared for the loss of one of the most talented classes in women's college basketball history at the end of last year, the team must also cope with additional unexpected changes this coming season.
Along with a new assistant coach, a trio of freshmen will work to fill the gap left by the three graduates and the unexpected transfer of Brittany Hunter.
"Just because the players have changed, expectations have not," Goestenkors said.
These heights--highlighted by the pursuit of a fourth Final Four appearance and a sixth-straight ACC regular season title-- recently became harder to realize when forward Hunter decided to transfer to Connecticut, Duke's rival program.
Hunter, who averaged 8.1 points and 4.9 rebounds per game last season, was plagued by numerous injuries during her freshman campaign. Goestenkors said Hunter, who announced her plans to transfer June 18, had been thinking about transferring since the end of the season.
The returning members of the team will work to fill this gap at power forward. Wynter Whitley, who worked as a student assistant coach last season while recovering from summer surgery, will rejoin the team on the court and help in the post.
With the graduation of Iciss Tillis and Alana Beard, Monique Currie is the team's lone returning All-American. But Currie, who was third on the team with 12.3 points per game, may graduate after this season, forgoing her fourth year of eligibility.
"As of now, I think she would probably graduate on time, which means she would be a senior for us." Goestenkors said. "But we're leaving that option open for her to see how she feels at the end of the year."
Goestenkors noted that the older players will work to fill the team's vacated spots, but that the three incoming freshmen--Wanisha Smith, Chante Black and Laura Kurz--will certainly play a role. With the versatility of the trio, the Blue Devils have depth at all five positions, even with only 10 scholarship players. Smith, a 5-foot-11 guard, can play at both guard slots and will likely back up Lindsey Harding at the point.
The Upper Marlboro, Md., native, a top-15 recruit, will face a steep learning curve as she learns the plays and style of basketball as a freshman, Goestenkors said.
"Right now I am learning from upperclassmen," Smith said. "I am making a footprint [as a] freshman who works hard, whatever the outcome is."
In the post, Black is one of the "most skilled" players Goestenkors has ever seen enter into her program, the coach noted. The 6-foot-5 center also adds height to the team.
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Kurz is a forward with the speed and shot of a guard, filling Tillis' former role. On the sidelines, assistant coach Georgia Schweitzer has stepped down to pursue a medical degree. In Schweitzer's place, Shannon Perry will join the staff.
Perry served as an assistant coach for four years at the University of Southern California and played from 1995 to 1998 at the University of Iowa.
Goestenkors considers Perry's hiring "a steal." The experienced coach will switch from second assistant at USC to third at Duke.
"I'd heard great things about her," Goestenkors said. "I feel very fortunate to have her coming on to join our staff."
Goestenkors will switch to the assistant role herself this summer at the Olympics with the national women's basketball team. From Athens, Goestenkors will still be thinking of the Blue Devils (See story page 10).
"Any time you have the opportunity to be around different people, different coaches, and the best players in the world [you learn]," Goestenkors said. "I'm heavily involved in scouting as well, and I hope that I can bring those skills back and help my team here in some way."