Before this season even started, Tonya Cardoza had reached a major milestone for a collegiate coach’s career.
This is Cardoza’s fifth year as coach at Temple, which means that for the first time, all of the players on the roster are players that she has recruited herself.
“When you’ve recruited the kids, you know them a little more so than being placed in a situation where you didn’t recruit a kid,” Cardoza said. “When you’re talking to them, you understand what their goals are.”
Cardoza will need those personal relationships this year more than ever. Six of the 11 players on the team are freshmen, and of the other five, only senior center Victoria Macaulay averaged more than 14 minutes a game last season. Cardoza said the team’s youth won’t affect her coaching style much.
“I’m still going to be demanding and expect the same things I’ve expected in the past,” Cardoza said. “I think the biggest thing is I’m probably showing a little more patience in practice, understanding that there are a lot of young [players].”
Cardoza said she would likely start two freshmen: forward Sally Kabengano and guard May Dayan. While there may be some growing pains this year, Cardoza said she thinks the playing experience will help the players in the future.
“I think the more playing experience you get, especially being a freshman getting thrown into the fire, helps you down the road,” Cardoza said. “Definitely by their junior year, they’ll have so much experience and will have been through so many different things that it will have made them better players.”
The current freshman class was recruited before the move to the Big East Conference was announced. She said their first year in the A-10 will provide valuable experience for the move-up next season.
“That’s why they’re going to play a lot, to get that experience,” Cardoza said. “They’re working every day in practice to get better.”
When Cardoza found out about the upcoming move, she was happy, but not only for her own team, she said.
“Yes, it’s a great opportunity for Temple Athletics to be under the same umbrella,” Cardoza said. “That’s something that’s never happened. It’s exciting for the school. We can all say we’re under the same Big East name, and go out there and compete and play in the very best leagues.”
Before coming to Temple, Cardoza was an assistant coach under Geno Auriemma at the Connecticut for 14 years. Cardoza has an opportunity to face off against her old mentor next year in the Big East.
“Hopefully we get to a point where we really can compete against them,” Cardoza said. “They’re on a different level than most teams in women’s basketball. Being able just to compete against him, after working with him for so many years, is going to be exciting and fun.”
However, Cardoza doesn’t expect to immediately have success against her old boss.
“I’m not going to look forward to them beating us,” Cardoza said. “I’m looking forward to the day where we can beat them.”
Cardoza said she isn’t worrying about Auriemma’s team yet. This year, Temple was ranked fifth in the Atlantic 10 Conference in a preseason poll by the league’s 16 head coaches. Cardoza said the ranking is accurate, but she expects to do better.
“The fact that we were picked fifth with just one [starter] returning that has played says a lot about what they expect from us,” Cardoza said. “I think we’ll surprise some people. I’m sure we’ll have some good days, some bad days, but I think overall if we continue to improve and get better we should have a really good season.”
Cardoza said she doesn’t have any explicit goals for the season, apart from improving as a team every day.
“We’re relying on six freshmen to play a lot, so to say we’re going to jump out the gate and knock people off the block is ridiculous,” Cardoza said. “Our goal is to be better every single day, put ourselves in position to win basketball games, and get into the position to win the tournament.”
Even though she is eager to move conferences, Cardoza will miss playing in the A-10, she said.
“It’s been fun,” Cardoza said. “I’m going to miss all the different coaches that I’ve been able to coach against. This is, right now, the only thing that I know. Now, we have to leave that and start something else.”
Evan Cross can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @EvanCross.