Walz counts on Fab Six

The future is now for Jeff Walz' Louisville women's basketball program. Though the Cardinals return four starters from last year's 14-18 team, Walz is most excited about a recruiting class that was regarded as one of the Top 5 in the nation, led by All-America point guard Shoni Schimmel.

The future is now for Jeff Walz' Louisville women's basketball program.

Though the Cardinals return four starters from last year's 14-18 team, Walz is most excited about a recruiting class that was regarded as one of the Top 5 in the nation, led by All-America point guard Shoni Schimmel.

"All of our freshmen have brought a lot of life to our program," Walz said.

A year after losing to Connecticut in the NCAA championship game, Louisville experienced growing pains without Angel McCoughtry and Candyce Bingham. The Cardinals finished with a losing record for the first time in Walz' tenure and missed the NCAA Tournament after making five straight appearances.

Walz' team was hindered by injuries and lack of depth last season, something a talented, six-man recruiting class, plus Vanderbilt transfer Tia Gibbs should fix this season.

"At this point last year we had four players already that were down and we were trying to salvage seven, eight, nine games," Walz said. "And now we're at practice and we've got 15 healthy bodies competing. It's amazing what competition will do to players."

Louisville's talented freshmen have re-energized Walz' program. The coach said his newcomers have worked hard during the preseason, pushing the Cards returning players to get better in practice.

Schimmel will play a big role for Louisville this season. (AP)
"They are out there understanding that playing time is on the line," Walz said. "They have to prove to me that they deserve the opportunity to get out there on the floor. Our freshmen have done a great job pushing our returning players. And our returning players worked hard in the off-season because they don't want to repeat last year."

Besides Schimmel, a 5-10 point guard, Walz also signed 6-4 center Sheronne Vails, 6-1 guard Antonita Slaughter, 6-1 forward Shawnta Dyer, 5-11 guard Charmaine Tay, and 6-0 forward Polly Harrington.

"Our freshman class came in with a lot of hype," Walz said. "It was a class ranked in the Top 5 and it's one I feel is living up to their ranking. Of course, they've got to perform in games and that's what I tell them. I feel really good about this group. We were able to cover one through five, so we've got depth now starting at the point guard spot down to the five."

Schimmel, a flashy floor leader from Portland, Oregon, will probably start at point guard Saturday in Louisville's first exhibition game. Schimmel could quickly emerge as a star for the Cardinals after averaging 29.8 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in high school last season.

"Shoni brings a lot of flare to our team and our post players are excited," Walz said. "We've preached for four years for our [bigs] to run the floor and we'll get them the ball. Now we've got someone who can get them the ball. She does a great job getting people the basketball in the right place to score."

Walz also expects a lot from Slaughter, a first team Kentucky All-State selection, and Dyer, the MVP of the Kentucky-Ohio all-star game.

"Antonita Slaughter has impressed me with her work ethic," said Walz. "She shoots the ball well and has done everything I've asked her to do. She'll have the opportunity to play herself into minutes. I expect her to make a big impact for us also.

"We expect Shawnta Dyer to start for us at the four Saturday in our first exhibition game," Walz said. "I've praised her for three weeks now for how hard she works. She told me her motto this year is to work hard so she'll play."

Vails, who averaged 18 points and 15 rebounds last season at Arundel HS in Maryland, should provide relief for starting center Keisha Hines.

"Sherrone Vails, you'll be very impressed with how well she runs the floor," Walz said. "She blocks shots, she's becoming a better scorer in the low-post and she'll score a lot in transition."

Tay, a first team All-State pick in New Jersey, could see action at both guard positions this season.

"Charmaine Tay will play some two-guard for us and she'll be a backup at the point," Walz said. "She's very aggressive and gets to the basket."

Harrington, one of the biggest 'sleepers' nationally, figures to stretch defenses with her outside shooting ability. She's competing for playing time at the power forward position.

"Polly Harrington is probably the best outside shooting four that we have," said Walz said. "She's getting adjusted to the college game. It's been a challenge for her."

With the season opener against Tennessee two weeks away, Walz is counting on his talented freshmen to play big roles this season. Fortunately for UofL, Walz understands how to win with young talent. As an assistant at Maryland in 2006, Walz helped guide a team that featured two freshmen starters and two sophomore starters to the NCAA Championship. Patience, says Walz, is critical when relying on inexperienced talent.

"When you expect freshmen to come in and play you've got to understand as a coach they are freshmen," Walz said. "I'm going to have to let them play through mistakes. There's going to come a point in time where a freshman is going to make a mistake and I'm going to keep them in the game to play through it, where if an upperclassman makes that same mistake I'm not going to be as understanding because they've got two or three years in the program and know what is supposed to be done."

Though Walz isn't ready to quantify expectations for his team, he does believe his team will be much better than they were last season.

"I expect us to be a lot more competitive," Walz said. "I'm expecting some big things from this team. Our freshmen are going to have to play more like sophomores by mid-December in order for us to get where I think we can. They're going to be playing significant minutes for us."

Louisville will host Indiana Wesleyan in an exhibition game Saturday at 4:30 pm at the Yum! Center.

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