When center Lubirdia Gordon left the women’s basketball program at the end of last season a 6-foot-4 inch hole was left in the heart of the Pirates’ roster.
With Gordon’s departure, the Pirates were also presented with the statistical void of 8.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.
With that all said, last season the Pirates struggled mightily on the boards last season, finishing last in the Big East in defensive rebounds and rebounding margin. With Gordon gone, along with fellow frontcourt teammate Claire Lundberg, head coach Tony Bozzella had the task not only of replacing his entire starting frontcourt, but also building it back up from the struggles experienced last year.
Enter Jayla Jones-Pack, now a sophomore, who came off the bench for Bozzella as a reserve last season. As a freshman, she appeared in 29 games, starting seven of them. She averaged just 3.4 points and 3.5 rebounds per game, but made a strong impact in the shot-blocking department, totaling 1.4 blocks per game.
This season, Bozzella has handed Jones-Pack the keys to the car in the post, with the 6-foot-3 shot-blocking specialist preparing all offseason to fill the void left by Gordon.
“I looked up to [Gordon] as a big sister,” Jones-Pack said. “I’m trying to use everything that she was successful in, like being strong in the post and getting stronger every day in the weight room. I’ve been practicing my shot as well so I’m not just a block-to-block post player, so I can expand my game and have an all-around game.”
For Jones-Pack, it has been a multitude of things that have helped improve her game. Along with the mentorship from Gordon and training on and off the court, the confidence instilled in her by Bozzella has meant everything to her.
“The support from the staff is tremendous,” Jones-Pack said. “It’s huge because that helps me grow as a player and help me grow for my future as well.”
As for Bozzella, he has never been one to lack confidence in any of his players. He has been known to speak highly of those that don the blue and white for him inside Walsh Gymnasium, however his outlook for Jones-Pack this season may be the brightest of all.
“What’s really impressed me most about Jayla is her desire to be successful,” Bozzella said. “I’ve said if I could pick one kid who could be a big-time pro on our level, Jayla has the biggest potential.
“When Jayla is on the floor, I’m very confident in her and in our team. Her thing is she has to be confident. I think if she would be confident, then you’re going to look at a kid who has a chance to be Big East Player of the Year.”
Confidence is key for Bozzella, and that begins with players setting out goals for themselves. Jones-Pack has seen where her game has grown and knows what she can achieve this season.
“Personally, I would like to start getting my confidence that started in the summer,” Jones-Pack said. “The first step I want to get is All-Defensive team and also try to get All-Conference as well.”
While on-court success is one thing, leadership can be just as important, especially on a team where all but two returning players are sophomores. While Bozzella has high expectations for the play of Jones-Pack, the fifth-year head coach has the same belief in her leadership potential.
“I know that Jayla cares for each and every player on the team,” Bozzella said. “I think you’ll see as she gets more comfortable with herself on the floor; I think you’ll see her grow more as a leader.”
With a more developed game and added comfort on the floor, Bozzella is expecting Jones-Pack to not just be an emerging leader this season, but an integral part of the team for years to come.
“I’m looking at her as being a strong foundation and cornerstone part of this program for the next couple years,” Bozzella said. “I’m really excited that I have her for three more years.”
Matt Ambrose can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @mambrose97.