Women’s hoops under radar, above expectations

Photo by John Nakano

Center stage in recent weeks has belonged to the Tech men’s basketball team, and not without reason. With impressive conference wins over NC State, North Carolina and Clemson, Josh Pastner’s tenure in The Flats is off to a good start.

At least equally as impressive, however, is the performance of the women’s team. Fresh off conference against Boston College and No. 24 Syracuse, the Jackets are making noise in the ACC slate’s early goings.

With the graduation of legendary Tech guard Aaliyah Whiteside, it would have been natural to expect a step backwards. After all, Whiteside turned in a 2015-16 campaign that ended with All-ACC awards and an Honorable Mention All-American nod from the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, a season that also saw Whiteside lead the conference in scoring with 19.5 points/game.

What standout guard Josh Okogie has done for the men, Francesca Pan has done for the women. Pan recently notched her third ACC Rookie of the Week award, offering the Jackets a consistent scoring presence in the backcourt alongside sophomore guard Kaylan Pugh and junior forward Zaire O’Neill. Together, the trio combine for 35.3 points per game, more than half of the team’s 67.3 points per game total.

While Pan is in her first year at Tech, opponents have found in her a veteran savvy that comes from prior experience. The Bassanno del Grappa, Italy native represented her country at both the U18 and U20 level and was one of the top-ranked international recruits when she made the decision to play for the Jackets, courtesy of ramblinwreck.com.

Last year, the Jackets tallied a 20-13 season record, with eight wins and eight losses within the conference. This season, Tech has already picked up 13 wins, which puts it in place to secure its fourth consecutive winning season.

Nevertheless, a difficult month separates the Jackets from the present and the March conference tournament that could make or break the team’s goals. That includes matchups against current No. 2 Notre Dame and current No. 5 Florida State. The former held the Jackets to 38 points on January 2nd, marking the team’s season low.

After the game, Coach MaChelle Joseph said, “[Notre Dame] did a great job of changing defenses on us. That’s really hard to play against for a young team, especially freshmen guards and you could tell it rattled us,” courtesy of ramblinwreck.com. Since then, the Jackets have had time to adapt to the Fighting Irish’s play style. That experience could well come in handy, and seeing that the Jackets held the Irish to an underwhelming 55, even a small improvement on offense could turn the tide if the stingy defense returns for the second bout.

Of their 11 remaining games, five of Tech’s contests will take place on the road against conference foes, while the remaining six will be played in the friendly confines of McCamish Pavilion. With only four road games under their belt, including just one within the conference, the young Jackets will undergo trial by fire. From standout freshmen like Pan to longtime Tech players like Antonia Peresson and Zaire O’Neill, they may have the right pieces to exit successful and optimistic about the team’s long-term prospects.