For its first 30 years of existence, the USF women’s basketball team failed to reach any sort of postseason tournament.
Then, coach Jose Fernandez and the Bulls broke through with a WNIT appearance in the 2003-04 season and have been playing basketball deep into March every year since, with the exception of the 2010-11 season.
Lately, reaching the NCAA Tournament has become more of an expectation than the pipe-dream it once was for USF.
The Bulls have gone dancing in four of the past five sons, including three straight. So, when 11th-seeded USF fell to sixth-seeded Missouri on a last-second layup in the opening round of the Tournament on Friday night, it felt as though the season was unjustly cut short.
After losing two program-changing players in Courtney Williams and Alisia Jenkins, USF had every reason to falter this season.
When several early season injuries ravaged the team’s depth, it seemed a foregone conclusion that this year would be spent rebuilding the talent lost.
Despite the obstacles, USF made it back to the conference championship game for the third consecutive season, and earned an at-large bid for the Tournament.
But while USF’s first round loss was met with disappointment, its ability to return to the Tournament with a nearly new roster signifies just how far the Bulls have come.
Led by forward Kitija Laksa, who broke Williams’ record for points scored in a sophomore season this year, the Bulls hardly missed a step from previous seasons.
Forward Tamara Henshaw admirably stepped up to fill much of the void left by Jenkins, finishing the season as the team’s second-leading rebounder and AAC Freshman of the Year.
Though Fernandez and the Bulls will lose four players to graduation this spring, only Ariadna Pujol played significant minutes.
With such a young team and growing recognition around a program that is consistently playing in postseason tournaments and cracking the national rankings, the Bulls haven proven they won’t just be back, they’ll also be better.