AKRON The Akron Zips want to make last season an aberration.
The program that had won the most games in the Mid-American Conference during the course of the past four seasons experienced an uncharacteristically down year, going 9-21 (2-16 MAC) and seeing a promising start go by the wayside with a tough run through conference play.
As the Zips try to rebound this season, 12th-year head coach Jodi Kest has an optimistic outlook about the year ahead.
"It’s always been about players. We have 13 great young ladies that have worked extremely hard especially since last spring. I really love this group; the chemistry is outstanding, we have great leadership and they’re just a fun group to work with this year," Kest said at the team’s media day earlier this week. "Knowing they’re so coachable makes it easy for myself and my coaching staff to come in with smiles on our faces every day."
Given that last season was a departure from the team’s winning ways thanks to youth and injuries, the Zips could have taken one of two approaches entering the new year. They could have elected to completely wipe the difficult campaign from their collective memory and start with a blank slate, or they could take a hard look at why last season unfolded the way it did and try to learn from it.
According to Kest, along with seniors Greta Burry and Lauren Hung and junior Megan Sefick, who joined their coach at media day, Akron has chosen the latter approach.
"It’s gonna help you grow and all of those kids were very motivated in the spring. Every single player on that squad … I could go through every one, they’ve gotten better in some area because they were all very disappointed with last year and we’re all about winning here," Kest said. "We never really talked about wins and losses, we’ve always talks about the process, get better with every drill, practice and game and then the results will take care of themselves."
With eight freshmen and sophomores combined on the roster this year, Akron figures to be young again, but some of those younger players have valuable court experience from playing last season and that alone could expedite the bounce back for the Zips. Sophomore point guard Shaunay Edmonds was one of the bright spots from last season and although she stands just 5-foot-4, she had a large impact as a freshman. Edmonds showed a good handle and the speed necessary to run the up-tempo attack for which Kest’s UA teams have become known.
"Shaunay Edmonds is one of them," Kest said when asked which players have star potential. "For us to be successful, it all starts with the point guard position. Shaunay is as quick as they come, as fast as they come … she’s just doing a great job this year leading this team."
Burry and Hung both noted that Edmonds has taken major strides in her grasp of the offense and in her ability to communicate with her teammates on the court. Those traits will be put to the test with as difficult a non-conference schedule as the Zips have faced in several years, including a visit from perennial national power Maryland on Dec. 2.
The Terrapins, who will add local product Taylor Mikesell (Jackson) to the mix next season after she verbally committed to Maryland last year, have been ranked in the top five nationally much of the past few seasons, but according to Kest, Akron will go into the game expecting to win. She recalled a visit from another major conference program, Michigan, a few years ago and noted that the Zips felt the Wolverines may have overlooked them coming in, only to see Akron upset them.
Alongside that game, Akron will face tough mid-majors such as Bucknell, Duquesne and Florida Gulf Coast before launching into MAC play in January. If the Zips can survive those early tests, their hope is that they’ll be forged into a cohesive, hard-nosed group capable of getting back to the top of the conference and making last season’s growing pains a distant memory.
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