By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
It will be a few more weeks before Georgia Tech’s women’s basketball team takes the floor for real under new head coach Nell Fortner, but there’s no need to wait for excitement, even if the Yellow Jackets can hardly wait to show what they can do on the court.
Fortner’s free-flowing methods are already a big hit among student-athletes, who are in their second week of official practice before the Nov. 5 season-opener against Houston in McCamish Pavilion.
“I like everything about her and her system,” said senior forward Francesca Pan. “She’s a great coach . . . very positive energy and environment. I like how she lets us play. We don’t have a lot of plays; it is play fast and smart.”
The Jackets have some plays, but the primary focus will be on allowing players to see what the defense is doing and then react in real time.
Junior point guard Kierra Fletcher seems to like what she’s seeing, even though that means she won’t be a traditional point guard. She, like her teammates, will play off of what’s in front of them.
Tech will look different this season, as the Jackets try to improve upon last season’s 17-13 record and get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014.
“Definitely the movement on offense. We’re not going to be as stagnant as we were my first couple years here,” Fletcher said when asked about what will be different. “We’re going to be active on defense, but not as much full court press.
“I think my role will be slightly different. They’re looking for me not to have to call a play all the time. The coaching staff is definitely emphasizing reading defenses.”
The Jackets were 17-9 late last season and perched upon a return to the NCAA tournament. But they lost their last three regular season games, and then their ACC tournament opener to North Carolina to conclude their season.
They have plenty of motivation to open the first season under a new coach.
“We’ve just underachieved these past years that I’ve been here,” Fletcher said. “We have a chip on our shoulder because of the way we’ve ended seasons.”
It’s a good thing that the Jackets have quite a bit of returning experience.
Beyond Pan and Fletcher, senior Chanin Scott, junior forward-center Lorela Cubaj and sophomore guard Lotta-Maj Lahtinen are among the grizzled who are back. Cubaj and Lahtinen missed summer workouts while playing for their national teams in Italy and Finland, respectively, but that may have been positive.
They may have improved more than anybody.
“I would definitely say Lotta-Maj and Lorela have stepped up in the weight room and on the court. I think them both going and playing with their national teams has done them a service,” Fletcher said. “I think we’re going to surprise some people. We definitely have something to prove.”
Fortner appears to be spending as much time pumping players as she is installing details.
“I think players need encouragement; they need confidence,” she said Thursday on the ACC Tipoff show on the ACC Network. “They need help in building their self-confidence.”
Pan is confident that the Jackets will surpass recent results, and believes that Fletcher’s suggestion that the Jackets have chips on their shoulders is right on the money.
“I feel the same way because we always have potential, but we didn’t show it really well,” she said. “We want this season to be different.”
The season is coming, and the Jackets are eager for games to being.
“It’s going to be awesome. I cannot wait,” Fortner said. “I don’t anticipate the nerves. I anticipate the excitement, just getting on the floor.”