TAMPA - The No. 20 University of South Florida Bulls, according to senior guard Courtney Williams, are on a mission. After a 2014-15 season of setting records, the Bulls look to write new futures for their program.
"Final Four and higher," Williams said. "That's our goal for this season."
After being selected to host the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament last season, an event the Sun Dome had never experienced, USF was three minutes and 43 seconds away from entering their first trip to the Sweet 16. The Bulls were up one point on Louisville before Cardinals point guard Jude Schimmel hit four free throws and a layup in the final two minutes, and secured Louisville's 60-52 win.
"You know this team was so close to getting to play that second weekend in March," USF head coach Jose Fernandez said. "And our expectation is to compete for a conference championship, to get back to the NCAA tournament, and take this program to new heights that we've never been at."
Courtney Williams had a record-setting year of her own, earning 710 points last season to claim the program single-season record. The Associated Press All-American honoree also lead the American Athletic Conference in scoring last season with 20.3 points per game and earned a gold medal with Team USA at the World University Games this summer. She enters her final season with 1,542 points, fifth in all-time USF career scoring.
"She's improved in different facets the last three years. I genuinely feel that she's definitely one of the best perimeter players in the country," Fernandez said. "Both of our seniors will have the opportunity and the ability to get drafted in the WNBA draft when it comes down to it, and continue playing for a long time."
Alongside Williams is senior forward Alisia Jenkins, who was voted as an AAC first-team player. She holds the program's single-season rebound record (397), and with 965 career rebounds, is only 112 shy of passing Wanda Guyton (1,077) for program career rebounds. Jenkins ranked fifth nationally last season with 23 double-doubles.
Tamara Taylor, a Tampa Bay native and now USF graduate, played in all 35 games last season, started five, and recorded a team-leading 58 three-pointers.
The newcomer who's expected by her teammates to have a large shooting range is Kitija Laksa, a 6-foot freshman forward who played two years for the Latvian senior national team. Her role will serve as a replacement to Taylor.
"It's in her hands, and it's gone," Jenkins told The Oracle, USF's student newspaper.
Nancy Wariboa, a 6-foot-3 junior center, transferred from Blinn College. She became an NCJAA All-Region XIV honoree by averaging a double-double while averaging 23 minutes as a game. Warioba also has spots on the All-Region XIV Conference Team and All-Region XIV Tournament Team.
"This group is great," Fernandez said. "I think we're playing one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country, so I think that's going to definitely prepare us for league play."
His team, coming off a program-best 27-win season, is set to play at least four preseason AP top-25 teams for a total of five times. The Bulls will host Jacksonville on Friday at 6 pm in their preseason WNIT home opener.