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Bulls’ schedule packs quite the punch

Jose Fernandez will have a reloaded roster when it begins play during a daunting 2019-20 nonconference schedule. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/GOUSFBULLS

If USF women’s basketball makes a postseason appearance for a ninth consecutive season, it’ll be hard to argue the bid won't be well earned.

Coach Jose Fernandez released the Bulls’ nonconference slate Friday, and it packs quite a punch. The schedule features eight teams that reached either the Women’s NIT or NCAA Tournament last season.

Highlighting the schedule are matchups against NCAA champion Baylor and NCAA runner-up Notre Dame within a span of two weeks, with neither game being played at the Yuengling Center. USF will face Baylor in Waco, Texas, on Nov. 19 and Notre Dame in Cancun on Nov. 30 as part of the Cancun Challenge Tournament.

The Bulls will eventually have three teams from last season’s Final Four on their schedule after the AAC releases its schedule later in the year, as USF and UConn will play each other at least once.

Other games of note on the Bulls' schedule include last season’s NCAA No. 11-seed Texas on Nov. 8 at the Yuengling Center — which will be the Longhorns’ first ever trip to Tampa — and a Dec. 19 matchup in Las Vegas against Mississippi State, the third No. 1-seed (in addition to Baylor and Notre Dame) from last season’s NCAA Tournament the Bulls will face.

Ultimately, Baylor is USF’s only true nonconference road game during a schedule that starts Nov. 5 against Jacksonville and concludes Dec. 30 against Brown. Everything else will either be played at the Yuengling Center or a neutral site.

The complete schedule —although without exact times and TV info yet — can be found here.

As that daunting schedule approaches, Fernandez has had some vacancies on his roster that have needed to be filled.

Thus far into the offseason, four players have entered the NCAA transfer portal: soon-to-be sophomores Makaela Kestner and Janeta Rozentale; redshirt senior Alyssa Rader; and redshirt senior Kitija Laksa.

But Fernandez doesn’t seem worried about that.

“Great teams are built with talent, passion, loyalty, work ethic and love for one another,” Fernandez tweeted June 7.

“Next season will be no different, yep…we don’t rebuild we reload.”

Fernandez’s tweet sent a clear message: The Bulls will be just fine, even in spite of departing players.

Seemingly without missing a beat, within an hour of that tweet, the Bulls were actually reloading, as Fernandez announced the signing of five-star recruit Elena Tsineke, a 5-foot-7-inch guard from Thessaloniki, Greece.

Tsineke has played internationally for the Greece U18 National Team and is scheduled to play for both the U20 and senior national teams this year. During the FIBA U18 European Championship, she averaged 21.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists over seven games.

“Elena’s ability to get to the basket and put pressure on the defense will complement our outside game,” Fernandez said in a statement at the time. “Add in her ability to play off of the ball, Elena is going to give us depth across a lot of positions.”

The reloading continued Monday when Fernandez announced the signing of 6-foot-1-inch wing Cristina Bermejo out of Sant Jus Deservn, Spain.

Bermejo trained with club team Basquet Almeda, averaging 10 points, six rebounds and five assists during her time with the team.

“Cristina’s versatility at her size is going to make her a matchup problem for teams,” Fernandez said in a statement Monday. “We have had great success with guards of her stature and their ability to score in a variety of ways and this will allow her to adapt to our system to become an impact player.”

Tsineke and Bermejo bring Fernandez’s 2019 signing class, considered by many to be his best in his two decades at USF, up to six players, with five already having international experience heading into their USF careers.