Fernandez could miss regular season opener

Since the USF women’s basketball team defeated Kansas on April 4 to win the WNIT Championship, coach Jose Fernandez has been preparing for a push to the NCAA Tournament.

The Bulls will likely be without him, though, when they start their campaign.

Severe abdominal pains have forced Fernandez to likely be sidelined for USF’s season opener Friday night at 7 against Florida A&M in the Sun Dome.

Without Fernandez, USF has postponed raising its WNIT Championship banner in front of the home crowd, which was scheduled for Friday.

“Coach (Fernandez) has been feeling pretty under the weather this week,” said associate head coach Jeff Osterman. “But we just want him to get some rest for now, and we’re sure that he will make a full recovery.”

Fernandez left work Monday with abdominal pains and underwent tests. Still at home resting, it is unclear whether he will attend.

With or without Fernandez, USF is focused on Friday’s game, Osterman said.

“The level of intensity is always high when you are a mid-major going against a major from the same state,” he said. “I expect them to come here and play with no fear.”

The Rattlers finished with a 14-17 record last season and were 7-9 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

The Bulls finished with a 21-10 record and a non-conference mark of 19-2 but didn’t make the NCAA tournament field of 64.

This season, the Bulls have a much different look without guards Jazmine Sepulveda and Shantia Grace, who graduated. USF has nine newcomers, but the team has a lot of speed, said senior forward Melissa Dalembert.

“We are great at running the floor during transitions and rebounding the ball,” she said. “If we get better defensively on getting around screens and helping each other, we will be a tough team to beat.”

While senior Jessica Lawson said she appreciates what the Bulls accomplished last season by winning the WNIT Championship, she expects her team to make it to the next level this year.

“We used this summer to celebrate and enjoy our Championship,” she said. “But this is a new season and we don’t want to be in the WNIT at the end. We want to be one of the sixty-four.”