Versatility a key for Rockets this season

Starting lineup still considered in flux

University of Toledo’s Andola Dortch will play point guard this season for the Rockets.
University of Toledo’s Andola Dortch will play point guard this season for the Rockets.

There will be a point guard on the floor when the University of Toledo women open the season. Andola Dortch, who helped out in a pinch there two seasons ago, is returning to the position.

There too might be a traditional center, but that piece of information is unconfirmed.

The other three starting spots are up in the air, the result of a roster brimming with players with skills transferrable to multiple positions. At practice Wednesday, when the team conducted its media day, there was little hope in determining which player on the court was playing which position. At one point it even appeared 5-foot-10 Inma Zanoguera was the de facto center.

“We’re smaller than we’ve been in a long time,” said coach Tricia Cullop, whose sixth team at Toledo includes five freshmen and three seniors. “It also means we’re quicker. We can shoot the 3 at four positions, sometimes five depending who I have on the court. That’s going to be a headache for other teams to defend.”

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The only locks to start, or so it seems, are co-captains Dortch and Zanoguera, each a returning All Mid-American Conference performer from last year’s team that won 29 games and captured the league’s regular season title. Dortch will handle the ball, a duty she fulfilled two years ago after Naama Shafir tore a ligament in her knee. Zanoguera, the team’s best athlete, can fit in virtually anywhere.

Cullop likened Zanoguera’s versatility to that of former Delaware star Elena Delle Donne. Delle Donne, the 2013 WNBA rookie of the year, played every position against the Rockets three years ago in the first round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. She scored 31 points in Toledo’s 58-55 win.

“Inma’s going to create some match up problems this year,” Cullop said. “Being able to move her around is a lot of fun because hopefully we’ll be able to exploit the other team at some point.”

Complicating the exercise of predicting a line up are injuries to numerous players. Brianna Jones, who seemed on track to replace Yolanda Richardson at center, is out with a stress fracture and there’s no assurance she’ll be back in time for the Nov. 3 exhibition against Ashland.

Her absence has opened the door for 6-3 freshman Sophie Reecher, though Cullop might opt to trot out a starting five without a traditional center. Another post player, junior Mariah Carson, quit the sport amid lingering back pain.

“Defensively we’re going to have to come up with different schemes because obviously people are going to look at that and try to bang the ball inside and get us in foul trouble,” Cullop said.

Sidelined with an elbow injury is freshman guard Elena de Alfredo, who participated Wednesday but only in non-contact drills. She impressed in preseason workouts, Cullop said, and when healthy the Spaniard will challenge to start in the backcourt alongside Dortch. Another freshman, forward Janice Monakana, is practicing after missing time with a knee injury. Transfer Brenae Harris, who is unable to participate in games after arriving from Michigan, is out with a stress fracture and could miss extended time.

Only nine players practiced Wednesday, a concerning portrait entering a season already minus the five seniors from a year ago that fueled a pair of double-digit win streaks and an appearance in the Top 25. The Rockets will be nobody’s pick to win the MAC title, but a team led by Dortch and Zanoguera, not to mention Cullop, should be fine. She said her team’s understanding of concepts is “well ahead of schedule.”

“Different doesn’t always mean worse,” said Zanoguera, an early candidate for MAC player of the year. “Sometimes it’s good. The situation we’re in right now is a very good situation for us. I think the coaching staff is doing a very good job of taking advantage of what we have as a team.”

Contact Ryan Autullo at: rautullo@theblade.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.