Independent women

If they had listened to their families, coaches and friends, Jen Kline, Alana Tanksley, Tristen Webb and Allison AuBuchon wouldn’t be at USF. Each of the four members of Jose Fernandez’s 2001 freshmen class was told not to attend USF.

“My dad especially,” Tanksley said. “People were asking me ‘Are they Division I? South Florida who? What conference are they in?'”

The group used that to bring themselves closer together, and now, they can be seen together everywhere: volleyball games, leaving practice, etc.

“I feel close to them because we have a lot in common, coming here with all of the controversy,” Webb said. “Each of us had someone that was close to us that didn’t necessarily want us to come to this school. People who don’t know anything about basketball, they only know the UConns and the Tennessees and the Floridas and stuff. And not everyone knows about South Florida. But in spite of all that, we came.”

All of them came to USF for the same reason: the promise of opportunity.

“We have a chance to start something new and make this team great, basically,” Tanksley said. “We’re going to take it to the top – no doubt.”

The diverse group shoulders the burden of leading USF to the postseason for the first time in the program’s 30-year history. In addition, the Bulls have had just seven winning seasons in USF’s first 29 years of women’s basketball. This group thinks it has what it takes to break the trend.

“The coaches have faith in us and we have faith in ourselves,” Webb said.

Fernandez needs his newcomers to make an immediate impact and not just so the Bulls can improve upon last season’s 4-24 record. Since the beginning of the 2000-01 season, USF has lost eight players, including leading rebounder Denetrice Stinson and three-point ace Shannon Layne. AuBuchon, once she returns from her academic suspension, figures to provide size inside, while the trio of Kline, Tanksley and Webb will be the backbone of Fernandez’s full-court pressure, three-point shooting, up-tempo squad.

“You look at Tristen Webb, Alana Tanksley and Jen Kline, the three kids that we signed, they’re exactly the kind of kids we want to bring in and they can take us to the next level and help us win a C-USA title,” Fernandez said. “Kids that have great experience in high school and AAU, who are versatile and fundamentally sound.”The newcomers also bear the weight of being ranked the 36th best class in the nation by All Star Girls Report. Webb, a point guard from Stone Mountain, Ga., will come in and give Fernandez more choices at point guard than ice cream flavors at Baskin Robbins. Dione Smith, the 1999 starter, and Melissa Tape, who averaged nearly 34 minutes per game at the point in 2000-01, will hope to keep Webb on the bench, at least to start.

Tanksley, an Acworth, Ga., native, will add to the abundance of wealth between the shooting guard and small forward positions. If Tanksley hopes to start from Day 1, she’ll need to outshine second team All C-USA performer Aiya Shepard and fellow newcomer Kline.

The long-armed Kline, a 6-1 swingman from Las Vegas, could see time at any one of three positions. With good height and the Bulls’ dearth of post players, Kline could be forced to fill the power forward slot. Ranked No. 200 in the nation, Kline would prefer to be running the court and stroking threes than banging on the blocks.

“I don’t really mind the post,” Kline said. “I can play all the positions, but I’d rather be out on the perimeter shooting threes. Definitely.”

What the group may lack in experience, it makes up for in confidence. When asked what teams she wanted to beat most, Kline responded, “I think we want to beat all 13 teams that were picked above us.”

Webb also was looking forward to exacting some retribution on the C-USA coaches who placed South Florida last in the 14-team preseason poll.

“It doesn’t matter what they think because they don’t know what we have right here,” Webb said. “And that’s OK. And I’m glad they don’t think that because they’re going to come to the games and overlook us, and then we’re just going to whip some booty.”Webb had some other teams on her hit list as well.

“Well, I have a few (others), there’s UF of course,” Webb said. “I kind of want to beat Bethune-Cookman because they’re our first home game and everyone’s going to be here. There was someone from BCC, I don’t want to repeat his name, but he was talking a lot of junk and I just want to whip their booties for that, too. Who else do we play?”

  • Anthony Gagliano covers women’s basketball andcan be reached