The Miami Hurricanes are set for another season of competition in the ACC after months of preparation in the midst of a global pandemic, despite no official schedule having been released yet.
“I think we’re going to be very competitive this year,” Miami forward Destiny Harden said. The redshirt junior has been deemed by Miami head coach Katie Meier as the player that has improved the most in the offseason, as she will serve as one of the team’s unifiers.
“We have all our starters returning except for one. I think a lot of players have been working over the summer, and we brought in a couple more pieces. So, I think we’re going to be very competitive,” Harden said.
But the Hurricanes have plenty of strides to make this winter after finishing last season with a 15-15 record (7-11 ACC) and another early exit in the ACC Tournament last March. The Canes will be without forward Beatrice Mompremier to the WNBA Draft in April.
Meier, who now enters her 16th season at the program’s helm, believes the program can go further when it comes to success in the postseason besides what her student-athletes have done in the classroom.
“I think that we need to break through the second weekend [and] third weekend in March,” Meier said. “That’s obviously something that we’re trying to do, but I think the 100 percent graduation rate and ten straight postseasons is pretty impressive.”
Also leading the charge for the Canes this year will be senior guard Mykea Gray, who has remained the team’s floor general since her arrival to Coral Gables, Fla., in 2017. The Upper Marlboro, Md., native earned ACC All-Defensive Team honors last season having led the team in steals at over two per game, while also remaining one of two Miami players to start all 30 games played.
“There’s a lot of seniors [and] a lot of people returning,” Gray said. “We know the program and the system very well, so [we’re] basically trying to teach the young ones while also trying to control and help them grow as well.”
Gray added that the right mentality is just as important as the mentoring aspect, stating that she wants to “make sure we stay determined and dominant with what we’re doing and keep trying to get better and better every time we play.”
Entering her final season at UM, Gray knows that she and her upperclassmen teammates will have to make the most of the season, regardless of how that may look from a scheduling standpoint.
“I wouldn’t choose to play with anybody else,” Gray said. “We’re just gonna try to make a statement [this season]. We know each other’s tendencies now while we also improved as well [in the offseason]. So, just knowing the things that they’re capable of is just gonna be amazing and you’ll see it on the floor.”
But Gray has not been the only sparkplug for UM women’s hoops, as Harden has brought beyond her share of energy and determination since the summer.
“I just felt like during quarantine there was a lot of ways [and time] to get better,” Harden said. The former West Virginia transfer saw her role increase in the second half of last season, and worked relentlessly to improve in the practice facility when the lights were off on sports this summer.
“As soon as we came back as a team, I felt like I should just transition over and keep that hungriness and keep on pushing myself, knowing that I’m an upcoming redshirt junior and I know that I may playing a big role in this season. I have to come in and be competitive and just stay hungry throughout the entire season,” Harden said.
Harden has been able to set the right example for her teammates by relying on the influence of her coaches to work right alongside her.
“Continuing watching film with the coaches, continue to get in the gym with the coaches, doing individual workouts with them, [and] supporting my team. I’m just going to continue doing what I was doing to get on the court, and I’m going to also keep that mentality going,” Harden said.
Besides the Canes’ veteran leaders making an impact in the preseason, even freshman forward Nyayongah Gony, a former four-star prospect out of Lincoln, Neb., has not failed to impress upon her arrival to Miami.
“She’s been great,” Harden said. “She’s been catching on [and] she doesn’t even look like a freshman honestly. I know a lot of freshmen that came in and kind of struggled.”
The Chicago native also noted that teaching and working with Gony has been seamless on the court thus far in the preseason.
“She came in ready to work,” Harden said. “She doesn’t complain about anything, she’s open to everything, she’s always asking questions, and she’s always allowing upperclassmen to give her new information. She’s been doing very good.”
The team will look to improve their play on the road, having gone 2-8 away from the Watsco Center last season despite notching 12 wins at home. Part of that will involve climbing the ACC ladder in team offense and limiting turnovers, with 64.2 points and 17.1 turnovers on average per contest.
Defensively, the Canes were a middle-of-the-pack team at No. 9 in scoring defense, allowing an 65.6 points on average. Mompremier’s height will likely remain sorely missed throughout their ACC battles.
Miami continues practicing weekly as they anxiously await to get a clearer idea of what their season will resemble in terms of both ACC and non-conference matchups. The nation meanwhile continues to see the amount of COVID-19 cases reach new heights, and the university’s student-athletes are being tested multiple times weekly.