Fernandez teaches USF women’s basketball life lessons amidst injuries

Jose Fernandez's team has been injured from the beginning of the season. The list of ailed Bulls grew when Laura Ferreira sat out against UCF with an undisclosed illness. ORACLE PHOTO/BRIAN HATTAB

In a season that has already been somewhat of an uphill battle in terms of injury, USF women’s basketball faces losing its lead scorer to an undisclosed circumstance.

Silvia Serrat, Kitija Laksa, Elisa Pinzan and Beatriz Jordao have all been sidelined with injuries this season. In the Bulls’ 62-49 loss to UCF on Tuesday, Laura Ferreira, who is averaging 15.8 points per game, joined them courtside due to an unspecified illness.

The team’s uncharacteristic 10-6 start — USF started 12-4 and 14-2 each of the last two seasons — and how it got there is important to coach Jose Fernandez.

“This is the kind of stuff that prepares you for life and the real world,” Fernandez said Monday. “There’s going to be things that happen in your life that are unexpected and it’s how you deal with it, you’ve got to wake up and go to work the next day.”

Laksa, who had hopes of an all-American campaign in her senior year, led the Bulls in scoring the past two seasons. Her injury sparked conversation of how the team would have to find more scorers.

The very next game after Laksa’s injury, Ferreira scored 34 points and had six assists. The Bulls found their new leading scorer.

“When [Laksa] got injured, I knew I’d have to step up to score more,” Ferreira said Monday. “But it’s a team effort. There’s five people on the floor, it’s not only up to me. We have to play as a team.”

As the season progressed, Jordao, a freshman, emerged as an important piece in USF’s gameplan. She was averaging 11.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Jordao’s season was cut short when an injury to her left leg progressed. Now down a scorer and a strong presence in the paint, Ferreira was in position to continue leading the team.

“It’s not really pressure,” Ferreira said. “I just feel that I’m a role model to [the team] and they follow me, so I need to be at my best, but it’s a good pressure.”

But now, after Ferreira sat out against UCF on Tuesday, Fernandez said he didn’t anticipate having her back anytime soon, that Ferreira was dealing with something “much bigger than basketball.”

Even with Ferreira out among the other injuries, five-star Latvian recruit Luize Septe can give the Bulls some hope as their season progresses, but the challenges she’ll face joining a team in the middle of the season could be difficult to work around.

“It’s kind of been a whirlwind because she hasn’t had the time and the necessary practice to be with our kids and learn the system,” Fernandez said. “She’s coming in and she feels pressure that she’s got to come in and be great.”

Even with several players missing for different reasons, Fernandez is finding a silver lining in the way he can coach his team through teachable moments.

“I think there’s a lot of life lessons that these guys have learned this year, but I’m really proud of how they’ve attacked every day, every practice and how they continue to prepare to fight,” Fernandez said. “Opportunities are going to come. You can’t get ready when an opportunity comes, you’ve got to be ready already when that opportunity comes.”