No fewer than three continents will be represented on the USF women's basketball roster next season.
Coach Jose Fernandez's sprawling international recruiting net widened a bit more Friday with the school's announcement it has signed 6-foot-3 Kenya native Nancy Warioba, who spent the past two seasons at Blinn College in Brenham, Texas. She'll join Latvian 3-point specialist Kitija Laksa, whose arrival previously was reported by the Times, in the Bulls' spring signing class.
Fernandez, who lost only four players from last season's 27-8 NCAA Tournament squad, still has two scholarships to give. Of the 13 players on scholarship (including the latest signees), only six are from the United States. Six are from Europe.
Laksa and Warioba are immediately eligible. As a sophomore at Blinn, Warioba averaged 10.8 points and 10.2 rebounds in only 23 minutes, earning NCJAA All-Region XIV honors. Blinn finished 20-11.
"Nancy improved a lot from the beginning of the year to the end," Blinn coach Jeff Jenkins told the program's official website. "She will only get better in her next two years of basketball."
The Bulls return all five starters, and seven of their top eight scorers, from last season's team. ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme has them 21st in his initial 2015-16 preseason rankings....
Ten former bay area prep standouts would be starting for USF if the season began today, according to the latest depth chart posted on the Bulls' official site
The chart clearly has been updated to reflect some breakthroughs and departures, and could be revised again shortly. USF indicated Thursday afternoon another update is forthcoming....
Typically, the crowds and conference implications are minimal. Mid-week game in mid-April? Not normally must-see college softball.
But Wednesday night's proceedings in Gainesville could possess the vibe of a regional, or at the least, a revenge game.
In a sport that demands short memories due to the volume of games per week, USF boards a bus for the University of Florida with its most excruciating loss of the season still vivid in its collective psyche.
"I still, in my head, say we won because we did have them beat," 2B Kristen Wyckoff said.
It sure seemed that way. On a crisp early-February evening at USF Softball Stadium, the Bulls entered the seventh inning with a two-run lead on the top-ranked Gators. But a would-be historic conquest regressed into a historic collapse.
UF scored eight runs in the top of the seventh, sending 13 batters to the plate. By inning's end, USF had used three pitchers, walked five, committed two errors, hit one batter and allowed two home runs.
Final: Gators 10, Bulls 5. Tonight, Florida, which has won the last seven meetings, still is ranked first (at least in the ESPN.com/USA Today poll), and USF (32-12) still is seething.
"I get really mad every time we lose to them because we really have the talent to beat them, and we're just as good or maybe better," said senior RHP Karla Claudio, who worked four solid relief innings in the first meeting before issuing a leadoff walk in the seventh and being replaced.
"We want to beat them really bad and I told my teammates I wasn't gonna leave USF without beating them first."
First pitch is at 6 p.m. Online broadcast information can be found here.
The common presumption is, USF's resident softball savant is out-thinking himself again. What other coach worth his sunscreen employs a full-fledged pitching staff — closer included — more befitting baseball?
Clearly, Ken Eriksen again is thinking outside the circle, some suggest. Or is he?
Laud or lament Eriksen's use of three starters — sometimes four — in the wake of three-time All-American Sara Nevins' graduation. Bottom line is, the Bulls' veteran coach hardly is blazing new ground in this season of transition. To the contrary, he's traversing a familiar footpath....
They brandished neither bats nor brooms Sunday. Held to five hits by a quartet of East Carolina pitchers, USF fell 6-0 to the Pirates, missing the chance to sweep another American Athletic Conference foe at home.
"They played better than us today," first-year Bulls coach Mark Kingston said.
Rarely has Kingston been forced to make such an acknowledgement lately. If any team warranted a mulligan on this Masters Sunday, it likely was the most surprising team on campus.
Two months into the season, USF (24-12-1, 7-2 American Athletic Conference) remains in sole possession of first place in the AAC. Sunday's loss snapped a 14-game home win streak dating to March 1. In one-run games, the Bulls are 8-0.
Their 24 home runs are nearly triple their 2014 total (nine).
"Guys are a year stronger, guys are a year wiser," Kingston said. "Teams get better as they get older, so I don't think we're any different."
Players insists the reasons for the resurgence -- USF was 27-31 last season -- go much deeper. They laud the efforts of strength and conditioning coach Joey Carnes. They speak of a tougher mental approach, and more commitment in the film room.
A veteran pitching staff, spearheaded by veteran No. 1 and 2 starters Jimmy Herget (6-1, 2.65 ERA) and Casey Mulholland (4-4, 2.72), doesn't hurt either.
"Our mental approach, the mental game, we're a hundred times wiser than we were in the past," said Bulls home runs leader Buddy Putnam (seven), now roughly 205 pounds after adding more than 25 in the offseason. "And not only that, but we're more aggressive and with that comes a little bit more fun.
"We're having a blast out here, and with that comes a lot better baseball."
Better than most would've imagined at this stage.
Exactly two weeks after being the third USF quarterback to take a snap in the Bulls' spring game, Mike White announced Saturday he's leaving Willie Taggart's program for Taggart's alma mater.
White, who started 15 games the past two seasons for the Bulls, announced he's transferring to Western Kentucky, where he's visiting this weekend. He'll have to sit out the 2015 season per NCAA transfer rules, and will have two years' eligibility remaining.
"After taking a visit and talking to the coaches I feel like it's a really good fit for me," White said in a text message to the Tampa Bay Times.
White, who passed for more than 2,700 yards with 11 TDs and 16 interceptions at USF, said he spoke extensively with Hilltoppers coach Jeff Brohm and offensive coordinator Tyson Helton upon getting his release from USF.
The Hilltoppers run a high-octane, no-huddle offense that averaged 534.6 yards last season, resulting in an 8-5 record and Bahamas Bowl triumph. Western Kentucky QB Brandon Doughty, a Davie native who threw for 49 TDs last season, has one season of eligibility remaining....
For most of the past week, the excitement over USF's baseball resurgence in the Bulls coaches' offices has been supplanted by somberness.
Bulls first-year coach Mark Kingston and assistants Billy Mohl and Mike Current -- all of whom arrived last summer from Illinois State -- have been among those grieving the deaths of seven members of the ISU athletics family in a plane crash late Monday night....
Western Kentucky alumnus Donte' Pimpleton, a former Hilltoppers teammate of USF coach Willie Taggart, announced Friday evening via Twitter he's joining Taggart's staff as running backs coach.
The school is expected to formally announce the hiring Saturday morning.
Pimpleton, 35, becomes USF's third running backs coach in less than four months. Former Notre Dame star Autry Denson, hired in January to replace Telly Lockette (who departed for Oregon State), bolted USF after roughly five weeks to take the same job at his alma mater....
According to at least one college baseball site, USF's resurgent season will culminate with its first NCAA Tournament berth in 13 years.
In its midseason "Field of 64" projection, D1Baseball.com predicts USF (22-11-1) to play in a four-team regional in Boca Raton with Florida Atlantic, Florida Gulf Coast and South Carolina. The Bulls split two games with FGCU earlier this season.
AAC counterparts UCF, Houston and Memphis also are projected to make the field.
The Bulls, whose 22 home runs more than doubles their 2014 total (nine), remain atop the American Athletic Conference with a 5-1 record entering this weekend's home series against East Carolina....
TAMPA — The gravitational pull of the moment did what no opponent could: It overwhelmed Breanna Stewart on a national stage.
Only this one — on the Amalie Arena floor — was makeshift. Standing at the center of it with her teammates as ESPN's Holly Rowe interviewed her late Tuesday night, the country's best women's basketball player broke down. Stewart's eyes moistened, her left ankle throbbed and her voice cracked....
TAMPA — As the final moments elapsed on the Connecticut women's latest nationally televised clinic, Geno Auriemma pumped both fists fervently and turned to embrace his trio of assistants.
Then the final horn resonated throughout Amalie Arena, trumpeting the Connecticut coach's entrance into his sport's most rarefied air.
Behind clutch 3-point shooting in the second half, the top-ranked Huskies (38-1) held off No. 2 Notre Dame 63-53, capturing their third consecutive national title and 10th overall before a crowd of 19,810....
In lieu of subjecting you to a knee-jerk reaction from USF's March 28 spring game, we chose to delay our assessment for 10 or so days.
We wanted every observation we took in during spring camp to digest properly, so we could offer more prudent analysis. We wanted time to pass, allowing perspective to blossom.
Who are we kidding? We've been so swarmed with March Madness, we're just now getting around to it. With no further adieu, here are our top five observations (in no particular order) from the Bulls' spring workouts.
1. Jamie Byrd was born to play the 'husky.'
Byrd expended a lot of energy last season sprinting from his safety spot to make tackles at the defense's second level. Now, he'll often line up there as the nickel back in new coordinator Tom Allen's 4-2-5 look.
During spring drills, the 5-foot-11, 184-pound Pasco High alumnus often could be spotted playing tight man coverage at the line, and even rushing off the edge. For someone endowed with fleetness and ferocious pop, it seems an ideal position.
"I like to make a lot of tackles anyway," said Byrd, a nickel back during his two years at TCU, "so it's kind of more of a linebacker/safety thing."
2. Flowers can fling it.
Count us among the throng hardly overwhelmed by QB Quinton Flowers' accuracy and velocity last fall. Over the course of 14 workouts and one glorified scrimmage, however, our opinion changed.
The Bulls' projected starter, who completed only eight passes in five games last fall, can bring it. Again, we're not totally sold on his touch and still are waiting to see him flourish in a real game, but his ability to stretch the defense on occasion in practices was among the spring surprises.
"He knows when to put air on the ball," WR Rodney Adams said. "He knows when to dart it."
3. Ignore the spring game results.
If the social media fallout was any indication, Bulls fans were mostly aghast at the results (one touchdown) of USF's intrasquad scrimmage....
TAMPA — She didn't steer herself south of the All-America pantheon single-handedly.
Other factors, all well beyond Morgan Tuck's control, conspired to navigate Connecticut's 6-foot-2 redshirt sophomore to a point just below the radar of national recognition. There were those two knee surgeries last season, limiting the Illinois native to eight games and lessening her acclaim in the 2014-15 preseason....
TAMPA — In the wake of the greatest season in program history, USF women's basketball coach Jose Fernandez has been rewarded with a new contract.
The school announced Monday it has added three years — and raises — to Fernandez's contract, resulting in a six-year deal that will pay him roughly $2.9 million. His $425,000 salary for 2015-16 will increase annually, topping out at $550,000 the final year. His previous annual salary was $325,000. Under the new deal, he gets performance bonuses for achievements such as a 20-win season ($15,000), an NCAA Tournament berth ($15,000) and Final Four appearance ($75,000). His staff salary pool also increases by $100,000, to roughly $420,000 annually....
In the wake of the greatest season in program history, USF women's basketball coach Jose Fernandez has been rewarded with a new contract.
The school announced Monday it has added three years -- and some raises -- to Fernandez's current contract, resulting in a six-year deal that will pay him roughly $2.9 million. His $425,000 salary for 2015-16 will increase annually, topping out at $550,000 the final year....