Before answering the question, coach Tonya Cardoza began to knock on the wooden table in front of her.
“[Injuries are] something every team has to worry about but there’s no way you can prevent that,” Cardoza said. “Things happen.”
With a number of expected returners missing in action, the decreased depth of Temple’s roster has pressured the coaching staff and players into making various adjustments this season. Since the end of the 2012-13 season, Temple has been without four of its veteran players who were expected to be a part of the 2013-14 rotation.
As a freshman, Sally Kabengano started 28 of 31 games last season, but decided not to return to the team during the offseason. She is no longer enrolled at Temple. Junior guard Rateska Brown, Temple’s leading returning scorer, and sophomore forward Jacquilyn Jackson have both been suspended indefinitely for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
Most recently, the team announced Nov. 29 that sophomore guard May Dayan decided to leave Temple and return to her home in Israel due to personal issues.
With the loss of those four players from the Owls’ roster, Temple now holds nine active players moving forward this season. In regards to players’ fatigue and injury, the decrease of Temple players has forced Cardoza and the coaching staff to adjust.
“We just have to make sure we’re careful with what we do in practice,” Cardoza said. “Make sure that in game situation, we’re giving people breaks. Sometimes I’m watching the game and I forget that [Natasha Thames] has been out there or [Tyonna Williams] has been out there the whole half. Just pay attention and not wear people out. Right now with what we have, it’s been working for us.”
Despite the relatively small roster, fatigue has not been a factor for the Owls, as most of Temple’s success in its first five games has come in the second period. In the first period, the Owls outscored their first five opponents by a combined 157-154, but in the second half, Temple has outscored those opponents 202-156.
“We come out in the second half and it’s kind of like a new life we have,” junior guard Tyonna Williams said. “Not to say that it’s a good thing that we don’t have some of the returners but we took it and ran with it. We’ve been put in this situation so what are we going to do?”
“I think up to this point, we’ve done a great job,” Williams added. “We mesh extremely well. Our team chemistry is off the charts. We enjoy being around each other on and off the court, so it shows on the court. We love the newcomers.”
Among those newcomers, who are benefiting the most from the loss of veteran players, is Temple’s starting freshman point guard and leading scorer Feyonda Fitzgerald. Along with Williams and fellow new addition fifth-year senior guard Shi-Heria Shipp, Fitzgerald is part of Temple’s trio of players averaging more than thirty minutes played per game.
“I love the guard rotation,” Fitzgerald said. “It is a lot of pressure because I know they expect me to do [well], but at the same time it’s basketball. I just have to focus, bear down, and do what I got to do.”
With the emergence of Fitzgerald, Williams has been forced to depend on an inexperienced guard for heavy production as opposed to the several players she was accustomed to last year. But for Williams, the change has been an enjoyable one so far.
“Me and [Fitzgerald’s] chemistry right now is great,” Williams said. “A lot of the mistakes she makes, I made a thousand times last year. I know when she’s getting frustrated. Both me and Fitz are very competitive people and we want to be on the floor. We love playing heavy minutes.”
“Yes, a lot of veteran players aren’t returning or haven’t returned yet [and] as a freshman, it is tough,” Williams added. “I didn’t play a lot of minutes my freshman year and I came into my sophomore year and I was the starting point guard. It was a lot of pressure. I understand it is a lot of pressure for her but she has me in her corner.”
Brien Edwards can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BErick1123.