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Family atmosphere turns out Fab for USF

Any of four Bulls guards — Maria Alvarez, Elena Tsineke, Elisa Pinzan or Sydni Harvey — could score 20 points on any given night.
USF guard Elena Tsineke says part of the Fab Four's chemistry derives from the fact that although they come from widely different backgrounds and faraway places, they have compassion in common.
USF guard Elena Tsineke says part of the Fab Four's chemistry derives from the fact that although they come from widely different backgrounds and faraway places, they have compassion in common. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Jan. 18

TAMPA — They look similar when they walk onto the court.

Calm and confident, strolling with easy rhythms and serious game faces.

Listed on the roster from 5-feet-7 (Maria Alvarez and Elena Tsineke) to 5-8 (Elisa Pinzan) to 5-10 (Sydni Harvey), they all play guard. And most importantly, they don’t care who scores the most points, or gets the most attention or plays the most minutes.

“Not at all,” said Pinzan, a junior from Italy who since the summer of 2019 has helped make up the Bulls’ backcourt Fab Four with Tsineke (from Greece) Alvarez (Miami) and Harvey (Tennessee).

Said Harvey: “On any given night, any one of us could score 20, and when one of us does and we win, then everybody is happy.”

Part of the story is found in the stat sheet.

Sydni Harvey, center, reacts to a block by Stetson guard Alyssa Hargrove, left, and forward Mali Morgan-Elliott during a Dec. 15, 2021 game.
Sydni Harvey, center, reacts to a block by Stetson guard Alyssa Hargrove, left, and forward Mali Morgan-Elliott during a Dec. 15, 2021 game. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Heading into Wednesday night’s home game against Tulsa (12-2, 2-1 American Athletic Conference), Tsineke led the team with an average of 13.7 points a game, followed by Harvey (10.1), Pinzan (8.8) and Alvarez (5.4).

In single-game highs, Pinzan has totaled the most with 26, followed by Tsineke and Harvey at 22 and Alvarez with 14.

It’s a give-and-take combination that has helped the USF women (12-5, 2-1) pull off some eye-opening victories this season, including a 57-54 win in November over defending national champion Stanford (now ranked No. 2), and a 71-62 victory over then-No. 9 Oregon.

The Bulls were ranked as high as No. 13, but have since fallen out of the top-25 following some rough games and bouts with medical issues.

But even in those rough times, there were bright spots.

Alvarez stepped up for her first and only start against Cincinnati (when Pinzan was out with illness). She not only played all 40 minutes, but she scored 13 points and dished out seven assists in a 61-46 victory.

“I didn’t feel nervous for that game because I felt prepared,” Alvarez said. “I knew everybody was working together because that’s what we do. That’s how we are.”

Maria Alvarez looks for an opening during a Nov. 9, 2021 game against UT Rio Grande Valley.
Maria Alvarez looks for an opening during a Nov. 9, 2021 game against UT Rio Grande Valley. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Tsineke says part of the nice chemistry derives from the fact that although they come from widely different backgrounds and faraway places, they have compassion in common.

“Everyone here was very welcoming and I’ve always felt that,” said Tsineke, who as a freshman struggled with her English and with the fact her home was across the Atlantic Ocean. “I had other teams who were trying to recruit me and at the time those teams were better (than USF). But I saw something in this place, in the coaches, the players, the culture. I could have chosen other places but I am so glad I chose here because now (USF) is as good or better than all those teams who were recruiting me.

“Most importantly we are like family. We care about each other.”

Sitting in a half circle with her teammates last Friday, Pinzan nodded toward the Americans, Harvey and Alvarez.

“For you guys it was different because we have family who are seven hours away from us,” said Pinzan, who admitted to speaking absolutely no English when she first arrived. “When I would finish practice I would think my friends and family are going to sleep and I can’t even talk to them.

“There were times in the beginning when I thought, ‘Am I supposed to be here? Is this the best decision?’ Then after spending time with my teammates, I realized, yes, I am supposed to be here. This is also my family. I love it here with my team.”

Elisa Pinzan, left, drives the ball against Stetson guard Yazz Wazeerud-Din during a Dec. 15, 2021, game.
Elisa Pinzan, left, drives the ball against Stetson guard Yazz Wazeerud-Din during a Dec. 15, 2021, game. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Harvey said she liked the fact USF featured some foreign players and she, like the others, “loved the weather.” Alvarez, who had won six straight titles while playing for Miami Country Day, wanted to stay close to home and after visiting USF and meeting her teammates, she canceled her other four visits.

“I never have wanted to be anywhere else,” Alvarez said.

And the Fab Four can stick together for another year after this.

The immediate goal, however, is to raise their overall level and make a run deep into the NCAA Tournament — to once again beat teams like the defending national champion.

“We know we are capable of playing at the highest level,” Pinzan said. “We have proven that. Every day we are motivated to be the best we can be. We believe the best is yet to come.”

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