University of Louisville women’s basketball coach Jeff Walz is entering his eighth season on the sidelines directing the Cardinals.
Walz has guided the Cardinals to seven NCAA Tournament berths and a pair of Final Four appearances that resulted to losses in the title game to Connecticut.
On Tuesday, Walz introduced his new team to the sold out crowd of 700 during U of L’s annual Tipoff Luncheon at the Galt House.
The Cardinals are coming off their second 30-win season in program history, losing to Maryland in the Elite Eight and finishing with a 33-5 record.
U of L has to replace four seniors, including first-round WNBA Draft pick and WNBA All-Star game MVP Shoni Schimmel, but Walz does have some key returning players to mix in with five stellar newcomers.
Cardinal Authority sat down with Walz for this Q&A session:
Cardinal Authority: You have been going for almost a week now, how has the start of practice been so far?
Jeff Walz: “The first four days have really good trying. We’re really just trying to find out who is going to fill what role. We’re looking to see who will shoot the ball for us? We want to see who will step up for us and be a scorer? We do have a lot of capable kids, but we want to see who is willing to take on that responsibility of stepping in there and taking that big shot.”
CA: Losing four players like you did, it’s a different team.
Walz: “We lost four not just great players but great people and with that now we have to focus so hard on who will take over those roles. We need some folks to step up and take on certain roles. Who is going to be the leader in the locker room? Who is going to be the leader on the floor? Those are all open for the taking. It’s all a matter of who is it going to be.
CA: Who do you see filling that leadership role?
Walz: “I would expect Jude (Schimmel) to try and be a vocal leader. Sara Hammond has done is in the past and Bria Smith can do it as well. There might not be just one leader the entire season. It very well could be a leadership by committee as they go and it could be a younger player. I’m just not sure there will only be one leader. Plus, it’s our job as coaches to lead too.
CA: Do you anticipate the offense being a little more up-tempo than it has been in the past? Shoot more three-pointers maybe?
Walz: “We’ll shoot some threes when they are open like we always have and like we always will. But I think you will see that we try to throw the ball into the post more. We might become a little more inside, out oriented. We may shoot a few more 10-15 foot jump shots, one and two-dribble pull-ups. We want to try and put more pressure on the defense off the dribble.”
CA: And still the same on defense?
Walz: “We’re going to try to change some things up and be a little more aggressive. Let’s face it, as good as she was on offense, Shoni wasn’t the best defensive player in the world. So we might be a little quicker at the guard spot. We’re going to have to have different ways for us to guard. We are going to have to try and make people uncomfortable on the offense end and we still want to try and score off transition and turnovers.”
CA: Well, the ACC is here. As a coach, have you scouted anymore or looking forward to the schedule anymore than in the past?
Walz: “As a coach and a player, you want competition every night. You want that challenge and you want that competition. At the same time, it wasn’t a bad thing (in the AAC) that there were a few teams I felt pretty confident if we came out and played that it was a win. Now, it’s not that way anymore. We have to show up every single night ready to play. You can lose to these teams on any night.
CA: What about the five newcomers?
Walz: “I’m good with where they are right now. We’ll have to see who fits in where with minutes and all, but I like where they’re at now.”
CA: It seems like Sara Hammond is a leader? Right?
Walz: Sara works her tail off. She is a competitor and she’s really improved her game. Now, we need Bria (Smith) to have a good year.”
CA: So you are healthy?
Walz: “We’re as healthy as we have been ever. We have everybody out there practicing. (Shawnta’ Dyer and Sherrone Vails sat out last season but) they’re both out there and practicing doing great . They’re not full-go for an entire practice yet but they both look good.”