College Sports

Jennifer Gross to take reins off UCD women’s basketball team

UC Davis women’s basketball coach Jennifer Gross is a former Aggies point guard good enough to be in the Cal Aggie Athletics Hall of Fame.

Entering her sixth season coaching UC Davis, Gross again has felt like a point guard at times. She is used to calling the plays for the Aggies’ highly structured, sophisticated offense.

But junior Dani Nafekh and sophomore Kourtney Eaton have played the position so well that Gross expects to take the reins off her floor leaders this season.

“As a coach, I’ve always wanted to push the ball, but we haven’t always had the personnel to do that,” Gross said. “So we’ve ended up slowing it down and being really, really good in the half court.

“But with this team, I feel I can coach less. It used to be I’d have to call every single play coming down the court. Now I’m trying to get away from that and let them play. We have smart players, we have talented players, so I kind of need to get out of their way and let them do what they do.”

Nafekh set a school season Division I era record with 130 assists last season, and Eaton had 113.In assist-to-turnover ratio, Eaton ranked fifth and Nafekh tied for eighth in the conference.

The Aggies return six of their top eight players from last season’s 19-13 team. Reserve forward Lauren Beyer is the only senior.

Nafekh and fellow juniors Pele Gianotti, a forward, and Rachel Nagel, a guard, have been key contributors for the Aggies since their freshman years. Guard Karley Eaton, Kourtney’s twin, and 6-foot-4 forward Morgan Bertsch played major roles as freshmen for a team that came within a game of reaching the NCAA Tournament.

The fourth-seeded Aggies fell 78-59 to Hawaii in the Big West Conference tournament championship game in Anaheim after upsetting top-seeded UC Riverside 81-72 in the semifinals. The Highlanders went 16-0 in conference play during the regular season.

Bertsch averaged a team-high 13.9 points in making the All-Big West Conference second team, and Gianotti averaged 11.5 points and 5.0 rebounds in making all-conference honorable mention last season.

Bertsch is an all-conference preseason selection, and Gross said her size, quickness, jumping ability and skills could make her one of the conference’s biggest impact players.

“She’s a matchup nightmare,” Gross said. “One on one, I don’t know if there is a player in our conference who can stop her. She can score inside, and she can score outside. She is finishing at a really elite level.”

Gone are all-conference center Alyson Doherty (first team) and forward Celia Marfone (honorable mention). But stepping in to help is Eastern Washington transfer Marly Anderson, a 6-2 junior center, and freshman forwards Nina Bessolo and Sophia Song. Bessolo and Song combined for 25 points in the Aggies’ 97-42 exhibition win over Oregon Tech on Oct. 29.

The Aggies were picked to finish second by the coaches and fourth by the media in the Big West preseason polls. Long Beach State was selected as the favorite in both polls.

But Gross is making sure her players are tested before conference play begins in January.

The Aggies play at No. 11 Stanford on Dec. 4 and No. 25 Oregon State on Dec. 14 in Corvallis.

“We don’t shy away from anybody,” Gross said. “We want our student athletes to experience what it’s like to play against the best players in the country.”

Bill Paterson: 916-326-5506, @SacBee_BillP

DATE OPPONENT TIME

Nov. 11 Portland 7 p.m.

Nov. 13 Holy Names 2 p.m.

Nov. 21 at Pacific 7 p.m.

Nov. 23 Montana State 7 p.m.

Nov. 27 Hofstra 1 p.m.

Dec. 2 San Diego State 7 p.m.

Dec. 4 at Stanford 2 p.m.

Dec. 11 Saint Mary’s 2 p.m.

Dec. 14 at Oregon State 11 a.m.

Dec. 18 at Sacramento State 2 p.m.

Dec. 21 at USF 1 p.m.

Dec. 28 at Central Florida 7 p.m.

Dec. 30 at Jacksonville 1 p.m.

Jan. 5 at UC Irvine* 6 p.m.

Jan. 7 Hawaii (DH)* 2:30 p.m.

Jan. 12 Long Beach State* 7 p.m.

Jan. 14 CSU Northridge* 2 p.m.

Jan. 19 at CSU Fullerton* 7 p.m.

Jan. 21 at Long Beach State* 2 p.m.

Jan. 26 UC Riverside* 7 p.m.

Jan. 28 CSU Fullerton (DH)* 2:30 p.m.

Feb. 2 at Cal Poly* 5 p.m.

Feb. 4 at UC Santa Barbara* 2 p.m.

Feb. 11 UC Irvine (DH)* 2:30 p.m.

Feb. 16 at Hawaii* 10 p.m.

Feb. 22 Cal Poly* 7 p.m.

Feb. 25 UC Santa Barbara (DH)* TBA

March 2 at UC Riverside* 7 p.m.

March 4 at CSU Northridge* 2 p.m.

* Big West Conference game

(DH) doubleheader with the men’s team

NO. NAME POS. HT. YR.

1 Brittany Nguyen G 5-4 FR

2 Kourtney Eaton G 5-9 SO

3 Karley Eaton G/F 5-9 SO

4. Rachel Nagel G 5-10 JR

5 Nina Bessolo F 5-11 FR

10 Pele Gianotti F 5-11 JR

11 Lauren Beyer F 6-1 SR

13 Dani Nafekh G/F 5-11 JR

14 Emma Gibb C/F 6-2 FR

15 Kaitlyn Hsu G 5-6 FR

21 Sophia Song F 5-11 FR

22 Morgan Bertsch F 6-4 SO

33 Marly Anderson C 6-2 JR

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