OCALA-- The College of Central Florida women's basketball program is on the upswing.
After nearly making the FCSAA/NJCAA Region VIII Tournament a year ago, the Patriots are primed to return to the postseason with a solid nucleus returning coupled with several standout newcomers.
"I'm excited about things," said CF coach Tommy Jones, who is in his second year at the head of the program. "This team plays well together and runs the floor like I want them to.
"Obviously, there are always some bumps in the road, but I think this team will gel and be able to come together.
"I like our chances."
CF got hot down the stretch last season and finished the regular season tied for the Mid-Florida Conference's third and final berth to the state tournament. The Patriots dropped a close game to Santa Fe College with the postseason on the line, but the improvement from the start of the season to the finish was evident.
This time around, an improved CF squad looks to not be spectators when the state tournament comes to Ocala.
Should the Patriots advance to the state tournament, Jones would become just the third coach in state history to lead two different programs to the postseason in state JUCO history.
Prior to taking over at CF, Jones led Hillsborough Community College to the state tournament.
"(CF women's volleyball coach Flavia Siqueira) really helped me a lot (in finding them)," Jones said. "I really am grateful to her what she did to help me out."
Rocha (5-3, So.) will start at point guard for the Patriots and brings a high basketball I.Q. to the table, while Oliveira (6-2, Fr.) has drawn tons of interest from Division I programs and will be a key player in the post.
"The ball won't stop like it did last year," Jones said. "I think you will see improved play from us and we will be exciting to watch.
"This year, we will play more like I want us to play, which is more of an up-and-down type tempo. I like what we have and I am confident in our players."
"Quira is our enforcer and when we need a basket or a big play she is the one who can give them to us," Jones said. "Brittany is back from last year and she is my mouthpiece. Having played for me last year, she knows what I want out on the court."
Grant, who will play more at the two-guard this season after starting at point for CF a year ago, will come off the bench and will be joined by the likes of Briana Mann (5-11, Fr.), Valerie Hill (5-9, So.), Deja Jeffery (5-5, Fr.) and Camila Machado Silva (6-0, So.).
This season, the MFC has two berths for the state tournament and the Patriots will look to qualify for the postseason for the first time in four seasons.
A year ago, FSC-Jacksonville won its second straight conference title, while Hillsborough and Santa Fe also made the state tournament.
FSC-J, HCC and SFC were sophomore-laden squads last season, so CF has an excellent shot to make some noise.
"Our goal is to win the conference championship and get to the state tournament," Jones said. "We have the ability to do this if we play together."
The Patriots open the regular season on the road on October 31 against Miami Dade at the Santa Fe Tournament. CF's home opener will take place against Indian River on November 5 at 5:30 p.m. CLICK HERE for the complete 2014-15 women's basketball schedule.