The Seton Hall women’s basketball team has undergone some changes so far this year. Four out of the five starters from last season have graduated, two new guards have emerged and there are now two freshmen on the team ready to come off the bench.
Those freshmen are LaTecia, or “Titi,” Smith and Taylor Byrne.
Head coach Tony Bozzella has great faith in the two rookies.
“We have some talented players off the bench,” he said. “Two new freshmen we have are Taylor Byrne and Titi Smith, who are going to be two of the best freshmen in the league. I know they didn’t get Freshman of the Year or any of that, but that’s okay. I wouldn’t trade those two freshmen for anybody.”
It will not be a surprise to see these two young players get playing time this season for the Pirates.
“If I had to start these two kids, I would be comfortable,” Bozzella said. “They’re a strong weapon we have.”
Smith is a 5-foot-6-inch guard who hails from Gardena, Calif. She was a key component in leading her high school, Narbonne High, to back-to-back CIF City Section Division I girls’ basketball championships.
“Titi is a tough and physical guard,” Bozzella said. “She’s top-75 in the country and has played bet- ter than I anticipated. She defends Aleesha [Powell] and Shakena [Richardson] just as well as DiDi [Simmons] and Daisha [Simmons] defended anybody. She’s a tough hombre out there, I’ll tell ya.”
Smith also understands what her role is going to be like with the team this year after the massive success it experienced last year.
“Last year was just phenomenal,” Smith said. “And coming in as two of the top freshmen, I feel like Coach B believed in us to come in and fill those empty roles for the next couple of years together.”
Byrne, the other key to the fresh- man duo, is a 6-foot-1-inch for- ward from Massapequa, N.Y. She helped lead her high school, Long Island Lutheran, to a trio of New York Federation state titles and was ranked as a three-star prospect. She was also voted the No. 71 player in the Class of 2015, according to ESPNW. Per Gold Star Elite, she is also ranked as the seventh-best prospect from Long Island.
“Taylor is a better college player than she was a high school player because of the physicality of it and the shape she’s in,” Bozzella said. “She’s shooting the ball from three, she’s got a lot of versatility. Taylor will give us a consistent game off the bench every game this year and I’m excited to have her.”
Byrne is more than eager to get into Walsh and start the season. “I’m most excited for the games—to get in a gym like this with big crowds and be able to run up and down the floor,” she said. “Even to travel and just be with the team. It’s just a different experience than it is in high school.”
So far, playing together under Bozzella has brought Byrne and Smith together as teammates and talented newcomers.
“I met Titi here in July and all of a sudden you have a point guard again so it’s a little different. It’s her getting to know me, me getting to know her, and we have four years to fill those spots,” Byrne said.
“Coming here with the recruits, I did my research before I got here,” Smith added. “I knew what I was getting myself into. It felt like it was the perfect opportunity. I’ll have her for four years.”
The two rookies are anxiously waiting for the season to finally start.
“We’ve been through a lot,” Smith smiled and said. “Adjusting, transitioning, conditioning. It’s a lot. Being able to compete in our first college game is exciting and we’re both so excited. I can’t wait, honestly.”
Olivia Mulvihill can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @OliviaMulvihill.