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Tasking a gifted roster with a difficult schedule

Coach Jose Fernandez has put together a talented 2022 roster mixed with returners, transfers and new freshmen. ORACLE PHOTO/HANNAH HALILI

In a few months, the women’s basketball program will begin its highly competitive nonconference schedule.

Headlined by No. 3 NC State, the schedule features a variety of highly ranked opponents such as No. 6 Texas, Alabama and Georgia Tech. The Bulls are also set to compete in multiple tournaments, one holding contests against No. 14 Ohio State, and potential matchups against No. 12 Michigan and Oregon.

With opponents that sound formidable on paper, the Bulls have ensured that their roster is just as frightening to their contenders.

This year’s roster is composed of six returning players, three high profile transfers and five freshmen. Two of the transfers played in the McDonald’s All American Game along with all five freshmen, gaining professional experience playing for their respective countries.

Tasked with the difficulty of managing such talent, coach Jose Fernandez will need to weigh his options before the start of the season.

“There is a lot of talent in that room,” Fernandez said. “I’m gonna have a tough job because there are going to be some talented guys on this team who aren’t going to play. Can’t play 14.”

One player that stands out on the team is 6-foot-2 freshman guard Priscilla Williams, who received high praise from Fernandez. Previously from Syracuse, she started for the Orange in 20 games and scored double figures in nine.

Along with Williams, the program has also added a slew of shooters. Freshmen forward Emma Johansson and guard Janette Aarnio have both proven themselves as talented shooters.

Johannson shot 58.9% from three in the 2019 FIBA World Cup while Aarnio averaged 14.8 points per game at the pro level, scoring over 20 multiple times.

Even with valuable additions, there is still a treasured asset whose return is currently unknown. Junior guard Maria Alvarez is currently five months post-op from her second major knee injury. There is no official timetable for her return, according to Fernandez.

Regarding the offseason with the expectation being “March Madness or Bust,” the late spring and summer months are just as important as the season itself.

“I think we had a great offseason,” Fernandez said. “Our returns were here all summer. Our three transfers came in and they went right to work and all five freshmen played with their national team.”

The team held its first of 12 team workouts on Tuesday and will begin official practices after the final workout. Two closed-door scrimmages will also take place before the season opener, the first time since before the pandemic.

Fernandez is confident in everyone that steps onto the court, but is not forgetful of where the priority truly lies.

“You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t win in the locker room first, that locker room’s not great. The best teams are player-led,” Fernandez said.

The Bulls will host Morehead State on Nov. 7 at the Yuengling Center to kick off the 2022-23 season. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+ and iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.