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Story by Liz Alper
Videos courtesy goaztecs.com
For videos of women’s and men’s basketball and women’s soccer’s portions of the press conference, click “read more” and scroll down.,
November 7, 2017 (San Diego) - With a bye week this week, SDSU football head coach Rocky Long invited some of the coaches of the other Aztec sports to join in on this week’s press conference. Women’s basketball senior guards Geena Gomez and McKynzie Fort and men's basketball junior guard Jeremy Hemsley were also on hand to answer a few questions.
“It’s an exciting week around here. With basketball starting up we all get into the spirit of watching the basketball teams play and hopefully they have great years," Long greeted the other sports in his opening statement. "Our women’s soccer team, it’s unbelievable how well they did in the tournament. They won the tournament and now they are going to NCAAs. That’s exciting stuff...And since we don’t play this week, I’m going to predict that we win, we always beat bye so it’s kind of a day that way too.”
Because of the bye week, the beat-up SDSU offensive line gets to recover. “Well, I think the offensive line other than (senior offensive lineman) Antonio Rosales has been getting healthier over the last couple of weeks. They are not completely healthy but at this time of year nobody is completely healthy that has played in games. This week since we’re only practicing three days, it will give the offensive line a chance to get even healthier than they are right now. They won’t be completely healthy but we would love to get our senior back..."
Long says he doesn't have any advice for first-time SDSU men's basketball head coach Brian Dutcher. I think Coach Dutcher is a very experienced coach that has had a lot of the authority that head coaches have so I don’t think it’s a big deal to him, I think it’s just a natural transition. He will have some moments though because a head coach never knows exactly what you’re getting into before it happens. Even when you have been around a long time and you think you know what to expect, it is not even close to what I expected. So he will have some of those, he won’t have as many as most because he has been around so long..."
Donnel Pumphrey and senior running back Rashaad Penny led and are leading the nation in rushing yards in back-to-back seasons. What does this mean? “Number one, it means that we have a chance to win. When you have good players it means you have a chance to win. Number two, it means that we are able to recruit good running backs around here and I think that that has to do with the system we run on offense."
The Aztecs are off this week, but will return next week to SDCCU Stadium to host Nevada.
Next, Fort took the mic and talked about why this year's Aztecs women's basketball team is different from previous years. “For the most part, I would say this team is more versatile all around. We’re guard heavy which I think helps us pick up the pace, our forwards have slimmed down and run the floor better and everybody in the guard position and post position is good at what they do. We have scorers and passers so I think all around each person fills a position in the correct way and we have a bench, which I think is a power for our team.”
Gomez added, "...we have five important freshmen and we don’t lose anything when they come into the game. It’s like guarding McKynzie still or me still with Te’a (Adams), Jenay (Bojorquez), Najé (Murray) who comes in for Lexy (Thorderson). We have sharp shooters which is hard to guard offensively, and defensively the same thing, we don’t lose anything. They bring the pressure and they have this chip on their shoulder so that helps.”
The Aztecs are just getting over a rebuilding period. Fort explained what that was like. “For us coming in, our freshman year was (head) Coach Stacie’s (Terry) second year with the program. It was different because we came in to an upper class who had had the previous coach so that was a big transition point, just buying into everything new. Now I think that with our senior class being here with her since her second year, we understand the way that she coaches and she understands us as players. I think that that helps us trust in everything she’s building for us and I think everybody’s attitude is in the right direction. It’s positive. We know what to expect. We’re still learning and growing together but we’ve had a couple years with her under our belt so we’re pretty much like extensions of her on the floor and she’s trusting in us more as players to just get up and down and play free.”
What is the coaching staff's message to players? "Discipline."
Gomez was asked the same question: “Holding each other accountable, for sure."
Lastly, Fort talked about the team's expectations for the season. “We’re focused on taking each game one step at a time. I think that’s the whole discipline piece, like I said, just offensively and defensively meeting goals. I think our expectation is staying consistent with what we’re doing. We do expect to finish high in the conference. We were ranked eighth (in the Mountain West Preseason Poll), which is something that you have to humble yourself and not get too far ahead, so we’re not trying to jump the gun. For our team, we do believe that we can go far.”
Gomez continued her praise of the new Aztecs freshmen. “I think they are going to make an important impact. In the exhibition game we saw some of them play big minutes. For instance, Jenay – she’s really good, especially as she grows her game and her IQ. All of them are pretty much ready to come in and make an impact. Adams and Najé, those three for sure are going to be an important part of our team coming off the bench. We have Kiara (Edwards) who once she gets a little bit healthier, she’s going to be scary down there. She’s very versatile. She plays four and five for us and she shoots threes and can handle the ball. Kennedi (Villa) is a lockdown defender; It’s hard to get past her in practice.”
What are Gomez's expectations for the season? “We personally expect big things from our team. We think we’re going to finish really high in conference. But right now is the improvement piece in preseason that we’re focused on getting better so that when conference comes, we’re ready to roll and hopefully get a championship.”
The Lady Aztecs take the court for their season opener against Presbytarian at noon at Steve Fisher Court in Viejas Arena.
Next came Dutcher. “First, I’d like to congratulate (SDSU women’s soccer head coach) Mike Friesen and our women’s soccer team for making the NCAA Tournament and winning the Mountain West. They’re playing at UCLA Friday. Heck, if we didn’t have a game, I might have driven up there to watch them. But everyone knows we open the season against San Diego Christian Friday at Viejas Arena and the team is looking good. We’re ready to start the regular season and start playing games for real."
Dutcher was asked how the Aztecs correct errors from years past. “Part of that is just maturing."
The Aztecs had a disappointing season last year, losing to Colorado State in the Mountain West semifinals. Dutcher was asked how to rebound from that. “The team has worked hard...All of these improvements, to a large degree, are based on the improvements that these kids put in over the summer to improve themselves not only strength-wise but also shooting-wise. As coaches, we’re reaping the benefits of that now on the floor, and the whole team is. Hopefully it’ll continue and if hard work is rewarded, then we’ll have a better year...It’s nice to have depth at every position.”
“It’s kind of hard to believe I’m a junior already. It’s gone by pretty fast," Hemsley said. "But the team looks good and I think everyone’s excited. We’re all excited to begin this new era with a new head coach so I think there’s a different level of trust with the players and the coaching this year so I think that’s something I’m excited about.”
How does Dutcher differ from former head coach Steve Fisher? “I would say so. I know Dutch is a more happy-go-lucky guy – not saying that Fish wasn’t but Fish wouldn’t show those emotions as much as Dutch does – but at the same time, Coach Dutch does a good job of, when it’s time to be serious, when it’s time to get work done, he does a good job of making that clear. And I think another thing is, he’s done a good job this year of holding everyone accountable and not letting everybody make the same mistakes that we made last year. These past two years, we went through a lot of things and we made a lot of mistakes so I think the coaching staff has done a great job this year of making sure that we don’t make the same mistakes that we made in the past.”
How has the focus changed this year? “It’s a different focus this year. We’ve been through so much and we know that we can’t make the same mistakes that we’ve made these past few years. We know that we have to have a different focus this year if we want to get to where we want to go. I think that’s the biggest improvement is a different focus. We know that if we want to move forward in the right way, we have to put our trust into the coaches and believe what they’re saying and just have them lead the way but at the same time, try to do our best to be a player-driven team.”
Hemsley felt that the team has grown. “I would say that we have grown a lot offensively and I think with that, we have a lot of players that are able to score, and a lot of players that know their role on this team and of course, defense has always been a trademark for the Aztecs. But I’d say that it’s just going to be another year that we’re good on defense but we have so many threats on the offensive end of the floor that it’s going to be refreshing for everyone to see.”
Right after the Lady Aztecs have their game at noon on Friday, the male Aztecs take Steve Fisher Court for their season opener with San Diego Christian at 7:00 p.m.
Last but certainly not least, Aztecs women's soccer head coach Mike Friesen talked about the upcoming playoff run. “We’re obviously pretty excited to be back in the NCAA tournament and going to a very familiar place at UCLA but we’re excited to see the progress we’ve made since the first game of the season. We feel like we’ve played our best soccer in the last half of the season and we’re excited also that we’re probably the most healthy we’ve been in about five years at the end of a season so we just feel like we’re in a good spot to go see where we’re at.”
UCLA beat the Aztecs 5-1 earlier this season. Coach Friesen was asked what changes the team would make this time around. “First of all, UCLA is a special team...One of the things we talked about right after the game was, I was really proud of how we played. We’ve had games with them over the years where they have just been the better team and that is probably going to be the case again this year in terms of talent on the field. But in terms of our performance on that first game I thought we played very well. They had some world class goals to be fair to open it up and we had a couple of mistakes at the very end so we’ll certainly be under a lot of pressure with them. We feel like this is an opportunity for us. We’ve been there this year, we’ve played well this year, we created chances – we didn’t finish some of the chances, we had a chance to go up 1-0, we had a chance to tie it up 1-1 – so we feel like this is an opportunity and I think one of the things we’re going to talk about all week is I think the NCAA really wants us to beat them which is why they keep putting us there.”
What makes the Aztecs so successful in the Mountain West Tournament? “Part of it is just experience. We’ve had (defender) Sarah Broacha as a freshman, her first touch as a college player was a nutmeg, randomly, but I think she’s grown a bunch over the year. She’s very athletic. (Senior defender) Stacie (Moran) has just been rock solid for four years. I’ve said this 100 times but I think she’s the best player in our conference and she’s just gotten better throughout the year. And (senior) Dani DeRosa has never played centerback in college. Her first time she played there at all was against UCLA. I think she’s grown tremendously throughout the year, just the experience of not just playing but playing in that role. And then we’ve had several players like (sophomore defender) Ariana Robles who’s one of those kids who just gets it done and (sophomore midfielder) Yasmin Ahooja has also been a stud back there. We’ll use her in the midfield and then we’ll bring her back to the back line where she’s good with the ball, she’s physical, she reads the game well, so I think there’s a lot that’s happened in the course of the year but part of it is belief. Just how they’ve come together and had each other’s back, they’ve just played well as a group and there have been some outstanding individual performances within that late in the season here.”
The Aztecs face UCLA Friday night at 7:00 p.m.