Assistant Sports Editor
The FGCU women’s basketball team started 2020 at the No. 25 slate in the recent USA Today Coaches Poll, finishing non-conference play at a record of 13-2.
This is the first time the Eagles have been back in the Top 25 since April of the 2018 season, where they were ranked 25th in the same poll.
“To be a nationally ranked team is something everybody would want to do,” FGCU head coach Karl Smesko said. “So we have to prepare ourselves for everybody’s best effort.”
And they have, as FGCU has gone undefeated in all three ASUN conference games thus far. These wins came from Lipscomb, Liberty and Stetson.
The Eagles only two losses on the season came from No. 23 ranked Princeton, and a very tough team in LSU.
The Eagles are currently the nation’s top team in five categories: three-point field goals attempted (623), three-pointers made (204), three-pointers per game (12.0), turnover margin (10.24), and turnovers per game (10.5).
FGCU isn’t shifting focus and if you ask the players, Coach Smesko is the one who continues to inspire them.
“He mainly tells you to focus,” says guard Davion Wingate. “He’s getting our minds back on track and saying execute.”
Smesko is currently ranked third in wins for active Division I coaches (524), behind Geno Auriemma (1,062) and Kim Mulkey (576).
His winning culture and attitude towards the players is what seems to be the catalyst for a successful basketball program.
“He gives you everything you need to be successful,” Wingate said. “It’s whether we’re executing it or not.”
Wingate, along with Keri Jewett-Giles, leads the team in scoring with 17.1 and 16.1 respectively. Wingate also leads the team in field goal and three-point percentage.
Wingate has improved her scoring average by a whopping 10 points per game, while her role last year mainly consisted of her coming off the bench.
“I think this year I have more responsibility in terms of scoring,” Wingate said.
Tytiona Adderly is one impact player that has continued to give the Eagles the push they need during conference play.
She leads the team in rebounds and is second on the team in both assists and steals.
Adderly also became the first player in program history to reach 1,000 rebounds in their recent game against Lipscomb.
Another player who has seen her role change from the previous season is Kerstie Phils.
Phils, like Wingate, was primarily a role player and came off the bench for the Eagles in her 31 games last year.
In the 2019-2020 season, she has started 12 of her 15 games and has taken on a bigger role for Coach Smesko.
“I know I have a bigger role especially starting in these games,” Phils said. “Just keeping my team motivated and bringing energy every single game that I play.”
Phils has also had visible improvement in her points per game, rebounds per game, and free-throw percentage.
Now that the Eagles are starting their conference play, they’re looking to keep the same energy they had coming into the season.
“Surprisingly now I feel like we’re more focused,” Wingate said. “Because a lot of teams in our conference want to beat us now that we have the ranking.”
FGCU’s women’s basketball team continues its conference play in Florence, Alabama against North Alabama on Saturday, Jan. 18 at 2 p.m.