When the Bulls take the court against Jacksonville on Nov. 5 at the Yuengling Center, it’ll mark a changing of the guard of sorts.
USF women’s basketball has almost as many new faces (6) as it does returning (8). Gone are veterans like Kitija Laksa, Laura Ferreira and Alyssa Rader. In are freshmen like Maria Alvarez, Mihaela Lazic and Kristyna Brabencova.
That isn’t to say there aren’t any leaders.
Junior guard Enna Pehadzic is the new face of the team, and for good reason. After Laksa and Ferreira went down — Laksa due to injury, Ferreira due to a heart condition — Pehadzic emerged as USF’s leading scorer and perimeter shooter.
But it’s not only her performance last season that makes her the clear-cut leader heading into the upcoming one.
It’s what she did after the season.
Pehadzic spent her summer in Tampa working on her game at USF’s practice facility. Her Instagram stories were filled with scenes from the Muma Basketball Center at all hours.
“I worked on a lot of things,” Pehadzic said. “But, honestly, I just tried to work on getting some space, getting my shot off — work on some small details to make my game easier to get a shot off and just keep it simple. Just get better at what I’m already good at.”
While Tamara Henshaw at the post position is the team’s lone senior, at 22, Pehadzic is the oldest member of the team — older than Henshaw by about a year — making her a natural fit for the leadership role.
“I’m the oldest one. I have to lead by example,” Pehadzic said. “So I’ve just got to be accountable for my own actions because they’re going to look toward me.”
Another new leader is junior center Shae Leverett. As the injuries piled up last year — USF effectively played with eight players for most of conference play — Leverett received considerably more playing time than was initially expected, making her first career start Nov. 24, then eventually starting every AAC game.
Granted, Leverett feels she doesn’t have to be a leader because her new teammates have been able to grasp things so easily. Of USF’s five incoming freshmen, four already have international playing experience.
“They’re coming along really quickly,” Leverett said, “and I don’t really feel like I have to be a leader because they just get it so quickly. But I’m there if they need help.”
One of the players that went down during the injury-plagued 2018-19 season was then-freshman Beatriz Jordao, who was averaging more than 11 points before her season-ending injury after the LSU game Dec. 30.
Despite still being an underclassman, Jordao has emerged as a leader too thanks to the time she was able to have with fellow Portugal native Ferreira.
“It’s a big difference,” Jordao said about her feeling entering this season compared with last year. “Last year, I had Laura Ferreira and she helped me a lot. She told me work hard. The same things that I was telling [the new freshmen]. And this year I feel more comfortable — more confident. I feel that I can help the freshmen step up because our team — all of us — need to step up. That’s how we work.”
Jordao’s message to the freshmen is pretty simple, too.
“The thing is, work hard all the time. So coach is not going to get pissed — and they’re going to be fine,” Jordao said with a laugh.