Heading into her second year at the helm of the North Carolina women’s basketball team, head coach Courtney Banghart is optimistic about the team's combination of new and old talent, even with the uncertainties of the months ahead.
“We’ve just tried to stay in the moment and be prepared for whatever might come our way,” Banghart said in a Zoom press conference Friday.
Because of the constant threat of a season disruption due to COVID-19, Banghart has had to adjust her coaching style and the path of the team’s progression.
“We’re not gonna take shortcuts, but we’re gonna have to introduce things maybe at a little bit different ebb and flow than we would in a regular year,” Banghart said.
So much is unknown about the upcoming season, but Banghart has focused her energy on teaching her team. The team includes lots of new faces, but the Tar Heels' head coach is confident in all of their abilities.
In terms of strategy, Banghart said the team is working on improving its defense.
“We’re just going to defend with a little more toughness which will allow us to score against non-set defenses more often,” she said. “We have a lot more versatility offensively, but we’ve got a whole lot more depth and speed on the defensive end.”
The team has faced scheduling difficulties due to the pandemic, and only just recently finalized its schedule. Banghart did not say when it will be officially released to the public.
“Scheduling was really difficult. We just completed it, and it is not what it would have looked like had we scheduled the way we wanted to and could,” Banghart said. “It’s different, it’s regional, it’s — I hope — safe, and I hope it lets us get five non-conference games in before we dive into ACC.”
Banghart took over in Chapel Hill after 12 seasons as head coach at Princeton. Coming to the ACC from the Ivy League was a drastic change that she is still adjusting to.
“When I was in the Ivy League, perhaps we had two games in a weekend, although they were back-to-back, typically one of the opponents, the starters are only playing 20 minutes, and that’s not how it is in the ACC," Banghart said. "The worst team can beat you on any night, and you can beat the best team on any night.”
The team is a completely different makeup than last season, featuring seven new players and five first-years. The two new graduate transfers are guards Petra Holešínská, who led Illinois in scoring in 2019-20 by averaging 12.6 points per game, and Stephanie Watts, a former UNC player who left last spring amid the school’s investigation of the program and former coach Sylvia Hatchell.
“I can’t even imagine that in May I was planning a season without them. They have raised the bar for what I’m going to expect in a grad transfer,” Banghart said of the two transfers.
The NCAA recently granted all winter sport athletes an extra year of eligibility due to their seasons being cut short because of the coronavirus. This has allowed athletes to play five seasons in a six-year span, which Banghart said has relieved stress for the team.
“For this particular year, it gives everyone a little less angst about what disruptions could be caused and how that could affect the duration of the season,” she said.
Banghart is confident in the team’s abilities and looks forward to the season ahead, despite all the uncertainty about game day experiences. Whether Carmichael Arena is empty or not, the UNC women’s basketball team is prepared to head into the season.
“I focus on things I can control," Banghart said. “... I hope that we can be creative in terms of our fan experience remotely, which obviously, for a national recruiting school, that’s important."
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