Women’s basketball working through transition period
THE SANTA CLARA
April 24, 2014
JR Payne once found herself dribbling and dishing through the Santa Clara Broncos’ defense as a member of a local rival. Now, she will be coaching up the Broncos from the Santa Clara sideline.
The former Saint Mary’s College standout and Southern Utah University head coach, who recently led the Thunderbirds to their first ever postseason berth, was recently hired to become the ninth head coach in Santa Clara women’s basketball history.
In her brief time with the squad so far, Payne is already working diligently to help the current Bronco squad return to glory.
“We’ve had a week and a half of individual workouts with the team so that’s good to kind of establish how you want to train,” said Payne. “It’s definitely chaotic, but it’s good chaos.”
Payne is inheriting a squad that was afflicted by injuries and a lack of production at times in 2013-2014. The women ended competition with a 10-20 record overall and dropped a first-round matchup in the West Coast Conference Tournament, marking the Broncos’ sixth straight season finishing below .500.
“We suffered a couple injuries but I just think we weren’t consistent,” said rising senior Nici Gilday. “We had our moments, but we can’t just have our moments, especially in this conference. Having that inconsistency was really tough on us.”
At the end of the most recent campaign, Santa Clara declined to renew the contract of former Head Coach Jennifer Mountain, hoping to start fresh by hiring a new leader to take the reins.
During Mountain’s six years on the Mission Campus, she finished with a 56-127 record and was unsuccessful in guiding the Broncos to an NCAA Tournament appearance.
Payne’s leadership and 14 years of overall coaching experience could help Santa Clara rebound from this past season’s campaign and build the program into a consistent postseason contender.
“I think I bring things that our teams have always had that have been successful: a real level of toughness and grit and just kind of a fearless mentality,” said Payne. “If I had to pick one thing, I think that’s what (my coaching staff and I will) bring to this program.”
This past year, Payne led Southern Utah to 23 wins, a share of the Big Sky Conference title and a spot in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
Payne said that her time spent as a player and assistant coach in the WCC, along with having a coaching staff with previous ties to the conference, could bode well for the Broncos going forward.
Santa Clara found itself atop the WCC in 2005 as conference tournament winners and in 2006 as regular season champions, but has not been able to return to championship form since. Also, 2005 was the last time Broncos punched a ticket to play in the NCAA Tournament.
In order to return to the highest stage, Payne said that her players must continue to improve their skill sets each and every day.
“(Payne) has focused in a lot on little details,” said Gilday.
The three-year player noted that the squad needs to work on one specific detail of the game in particular: toughness.
“I think that’s one thing that (Payne) has focused on and emphasized for us as well and that kind of stems from getting stronger in the weight room,” said Gilday. “So especially this offseason, just really putting in the work in the weight room and trying to get tougher will help improve our consistency.”
Santa Clara will have lost a sharp-shooting threat in Ricki Radanovich and the post presence of Ruta Zurauskyte come next season, but will look to ride the performances of both veterans and up-and-comers. Gilday, a potent scorer, alongside rising sophomore and physical rebounder Jo Paine and rising sophomore Montana Walters, a shifty dribbler and assist-minded guard, will be just some of the Broncos leading the charge.
From what Payne has observed in the past two weeks at practice, she is excited to get to work with the squad’s cast of characters.
“They just have a very light-hearted spirit about them,” she said. “They don’t take themselves too seriously. Now we’ll need to get serious on the court, but you know I think they have a lot of fun together. I think they really enjoy each other. And I think they’re really hungry to do well and get better.”
Contact Brendan Weber at email@example.com or call (408) 554-4852.