Countdown to the Women's Basketball season: Focusing on the freshmen seven (Part 2)
Countdown to the Season Series: As the Longhorns coaching staff and players gear up for the official start of the 2005-06 season, TexasSports.com will go behind the scenes and help you get acquainted with the players and coaches and give you a look at what's going on as the team prepares for another year of challenging for championships.
AUSTIN, Texas-- Talk about tough transitions!
At Big 12 Conference Basketball Media Day on October 19, one of the first questions posed to Jody Conradt about her 2005-06 team concerned the huge freshmen class of seven newcomers - the largest rookie class in Conradt's 30-year tenure at the Forty Acres.
Jokingly, Conradt told the media that, "Going into practice this fall, I almost needed a (roster) program, because again it's a huge freshmen class. I have never been a part of a team with that many newcomers!"
If Coach Conradt needed help in the transition to this year's team, imagine the tough transition it has been for these seven newcomers as they try to adjust to the academic and athletic demands at Texas. Whether it be shortening up their summer to focus on two semesters of UT summer school instead of relaxing and socializing at home with fellow friends, or making adjustments to the rigorous UT weight training/conditioning program or getting organized for 8 a.m. college classes and daily study halls, these seven freshmen are doing it - and doing it well.
And making the transitions easier are the leadership of the Longhorns senior quartet of guards Nina Norman, Coco Reed, Daria Mieloszynska and Tamra Cobbins.
"The fact is, almost half our team has never stepped on the floor and played a Division I basketball game," noted Conradt. "They are an outstanding group in terms of talent and potential, however. I really feel confident about how these freshmen will transition because of the leadership they are receiving from Nina and the other three seniors on our team. So, I am excited about these seven and the impact that they are going to have in our program."
Like any college freshman moving to the UT campus for fall classes, the seven freshmen who comprise Texas women's basketball's top-ranked recruiting class were forced to adapt to new surroundings when they moved to Austin. But, in the case of freshman guard Carla Cortijo, the transition involved more than just a change of scenery.
For Cortijo, who moved to the United States three years ago, her commitment to play for the Longhorns meant another four years away from her home in Puerto Rico - where her family again resides.
"It's tough to be away because I really really miss my family and my friends," said Cortijo of her time away from home.
"Yes, I am homesick, and some days are worse than others. But," Cortijo explained, "I'm getting used to the distance factor, and overall I'm happy to be here. Everyone is really helping me adjust, especially Nina Norman). I appreciate how much time she is spending with me."
Cortijo's ongoing acclimation to life in the United States is one of many adjustments experienced by the newest Longhorns. Basketball-wise, the adjustment that requires the most perseverance is the increased emphasis on strength and conditioning, a lifeblood for one of the nation's top basketball programs.
"The transition to a more rigorous strength and conditioning program has been a difficult one," explained freshman post Mariana Mergerson. "We lifted weights in high school, but that was NOTHING compared to this!"
Mergerson is referring to the challenging regimen directed by strength and conditioning coach Todd Wright, in which the freshmen learn fundamentals of movement to improve their flexibility and endurance.
"It's a really difficult adjustment for newcomers because none of them have ever worked this hard before," Wright explained. "But, I have been very pleased with their attitudes. When you educate them on how their bodies work, they become motivated to work on the areas where they need improvement."
Freshman guard Erika Arriaran is acutely aware of the difficulties of the strength and conditioning program and is relying on help from upperclassmen to handle the workload.
"The regimen is much more demanding than anything I ever did in high school," noted Arriaran, "but Todd is patient with us (the freshmen) because we didn't know what we were getting into! Yes, the weight training and conditioning program is much more difficult than anything any of us have ever done, but we have people on our team who support us. The upperclassmen know how we feel because they have been there themselves."
Transition is difficult for every Longhorn, including senior guard Nina Norman, who is embracing her new role as the team leader after graduation stripped the Longhorn roster of six seniors from last year's team.
"To be honest, being a leader on the team is hard!", Norman explained. "I didn't realize how hard it was (to be a leader) until the freshmen continue to come up to me, telling me how tired they are. I am telling them to keep going, and I shared my experiences as a freshman with them because they think it's all pretty easy for me - and it's not.
"Back in high school they were probably the best player on their team and they didn't have to work really hard to get what they needed, and now, they are going to have to work every day and that's new for them," Norman concluded. "They are seeing in practice that it's hard to get by somebody and that the old moves that they used to work don't work now. They have got to learn the game. Once they get some experience under their belts they are going to be fine. It's up to all of us to help them get ready for college competition."
Off the court, one of the toughest lessons to learn for any student-athlete is how to balance the demands of classwork and how to develop great time management skills in order to be successful in the classroom, in practice and in study halls. The academic counselors/student services staff at The University of Texas got effusive praise from the freshmen.
"Our academic counselors really have helped all of us, since the first day we came on campus this summer," noted guard Earnesia Williams. "Help is always there when called upon - before class, after practice, in study halls at night. The academic support services staff does a great job! Our coaches and the academic staff will definitely set you up to succeed in academics and on the basketball court."
"I decided to come to Texas because of the top-of-the-line academics and athletics," noted guard Crystal Boyd. "And, it IS hard here, to do really well every day in practice and in your classes. But, everyone has your back. Everyone is here to help."
"The academic counselors are there for you, just like the coaches are," said rookie post Aubry Cook. "They keep helping me with all my adjustments. They are really caring people."
A transition often overlooked in a freshman's first season is the adaptation to a new set of coaches. Adjusting to a different group of coaches involves dealing with a new set of rules and team policies and becoming accustomed to a different style of play. However, for the newest Longhorns, working with a different coaching staff has been a big positive.
"Our coaches are a cool group to work with," said freshman post Ashley Lindsey, who played high school ball at nearby Pflugerville Connally High School. "They'll get on you if you don't do what they say, but I listen and do what I have to do. They are all good coaches and I really like them. I can tell we are all improving every day. It's hard, but that's what it takes to be a great team."
"I love the coaching staff!", she stated. "I think a lot of people assume that coaches act differently when they are recruiting you than how they are going to treat you once you get on campus. Honestly, I definitely was one of those people. But, they have been the same throughout the whole process and that has really helped all of us adjust to UT. They are just good, down-to-earth people."
Norman reflected on the seven freshman and how they are progressing.
"I am really happy because they are coming along really well and they are listening," she stated. "It's going to be hard if they don't listen, but they really listen to me and look up to me and I just want to help them out as much as I can because they are really great bunch of players. They are really going to make a difference in this program."