2004-2005 Husky Women's Basketball Season Preview

Oct. 13, 2004

SEATTLE, WASH. - Entering the 31st year in the history of the Washington women's basketball program, it seems only fitting that the 2004-2005 team features so many new, bright, young faces. Although the names and faces might be not as familiar to Husky fans, the team will still come together with the desire to continue the unbridled success that is Husky basketball, a tradition embedded in the previous 30 years spent on the shores of Lake Washington.

This 'changing of the guard' features a team with 12 underclassmen - seven sophomores and five freshmen. A team is not complete without its leaders-- a role which will fall into the very capable hands of two faces which Husky fans will no doubt be delighted to see back on the court in Kayla Burt and Kristen O'Neill.

One Dream, One Team. A mix of old and new. A combination of looking back on the tradition established before them and looking forward to creating their own success on their own court. That is Husky basketball.

One thing that has remained the backbone of UW's success has been its consistent fan support. The Huskies have led the Pac-10 in average home attendance the last two seasons and have remained a fixture among the top-20 teams in national attendance rankings.

Another thing that hasn't changed for head coach June Daugherty's squad is UW's signature up-tempo, high-energy style of play. The Huskies will focus on solid rebounding, a tough pressure defense and a running game that is second to none.

'Our team's strength this year will be quickness, skilled athletes that will push the ball into an up-tempo game,' Daugherty said. 'Our goal will also be to pressure opponents with strong rebounding and `in your face' defensive strategies and constant running. The key to our success coincides with the Husky playing style, how hard we can commit to playing as a unit and having several individual players ready to perform at a high level of consistent play.'

The Huskies will no doubt have the challenge of replacing their top three leading scorers from last season, a trio of players who etched their mark on the legacy of Husky basketball. Giuliana Mendiola, Gioconda Mendiola and Andrea Lalum will certainly be missed. Giuliana and Lalum have gone on to play professionally, Giuli with the WNBA Sacramento Monarchs and Lalum with a team in Athens, Greece. But Washington looks to have the key ingredients in line to take over where they left off. With the huge impact that Giuliana Mendiola alone made on Husky basketball, it is a legacy her teammates will continue to carry even though she may not be on the court with them.

'Playing with Giuli allowed our players to experience a unique passion for excellence in a practice each and every day,' Daugherty said. 'Giuli not only worked extremely hard at mastering the game, but also helped her teammates play at a higher level by example.'

If any group can pick up where their graduated teammates left off, it's this Husky squad. Washington returns two starters from last year, sophomores Cameo Hicks and Breanne Watson, who both made big impacts in their rookie campaigns. Sophomore Jill Bell was another first-year player in 2003-04 who contributed, showing her prowess on the boards and establishing herself as one Washington's top rebounders. Three other freshmen from last year, Cheri Craddock, Angie Jones and Maggie O'Hara, were all relied upon for valuable playing time. Although just sophomores this year, those six players have collegiate experience far beyond the number of varsity letters they have earned.

'The six freshmen from last year got quite a bit of playing time,' Daugherty said. 'There is no substitute for experience. Each and every freshman that played has utilized her hands-on playing time to improve her game in the off-season.'

Much of Washington's success last year can be linked to the expectations exceeded by its freshmen. The Huskies finished with an overall record of 18-13, marking the fourth-straight season UW has earned at least 18 wins. Washington made its fourth straight postseason appearance - seventh all-time under Daugherty - and advanced to the second round of the WNIT.

The experience of the sophomore class this year will be so valuable, due to the fact that the 2004-2005 roster is void of any seniors. Burt, O'Neill and Nicole Castro will be the team's most experienced players as juniors but will rely on all their teammates to assist with the leadership role.

'Kristen and Kayla are the captains and they will count on all the players to provide leadership within the team,' Daugherty said. 'I see several potential leaders stepping up to this role for the good of the program.' Some of those potential leaders could even come from the group of five incoming freshmen. A highly touted recruiting class, all five players- Dominique Banks, Stefanie Clark, Emily Florence, Jackie Hollands and Andrea Plouffe - could make an impact right away.

'The freshman class is loaded with players who know what it means to win championships,' Daugherty said. 'Their outlook is extremely exciting. They are very talented, blue-collar type players who love to play basketball. All five come from extremely successful high school programs. How quickly they adjust to college basketball and adapt to the Husky system will dictate their playing time and contributions.'

This year's freshmen will have some strong role models in guards Burt, O'Neill and Castro. Both Burt and O'Neill return to the squad after missing last season for different reasons. After suffering cardiac arrest on New Year's Eve, 2002, Burt's career came to a premature end due to the fact she was diagnosed at the time with a heart condition called Long QT Syndrome. Burt and her parents sought further medical opinion and tests came back negative for Long QT. She then expressed her interest to return to basketball, a request that was granted by the University. She will play with a defibrillator that was implanted in her chest in January of 2003.

Burt served as a student assistant coach for the second half of the 2002-03 season and the entirety of the 2003-04 season. Her last intercollegiate game was Dec. 28, 2002, at Washington State. As much attention as Burt has received for things that have happened off the court, she is excited to return her focus again to basketball.

'Kayla is a fearless, versatile guard who creates offense by always moving on the floor,' Daugherty said. 'She has good size and skill level, and also has a very solid understanding of the game. She will make things happen on both ends of the floor with her intensity and talent. Kayla will be counted on to continue to provide leadership on and off the court.'

O'Neill is another player who hasn't seen intercollegiate action since the 2002-03 season. A stress fracture injury discovered in preseason practice last year, forced her to redshirt. O'Neill was a starting guard as a sophomore, who averaged 5.3 points and 4.4 rebounds. 'Kristen is a multi-dimensional player who can play any position on the floor,' Daugherty said. 'She has great size at the point guard position and sees the floor better than most in the country. She will allow us to press at the key spot defensively. Offensively she will be the catalyst for our ability to run fast break basketball.'

Castro played in all but one game last year off the bench, averaging 1.7 points and 1.6 rebounds. A stellar defensive player, she was named the team's Top Defensive Player at the end of the year. 'Nicole is a passionate player who is poised for a big year,' Daugherty said. 'She can run the floor and go to the basket better than most. Her rebounding from the guard's position and defending the ball is a key for the Dawgs' success this year.'

Additional returning guards include sophomores Cameo Hicks, Angie Jones, Erica Schelly and Cheri Craddock. Hicks is Washington's top returning scorer, who averaged 7.1 points and 3.8 rebounds. Also one of the best rookies in the league, she was named to the Pac-10 All-Freshman team at the end of last year. 'Cameo is a gifted athletic player who made a big statement with her game throughout her freshman year,' Daugherty said. 'She can get to the basket any time with her quickness, and defensively, her dedication to stop opponents is going to be a key ingredient to another successful season.'

Jones got some starting experience under her belt, starting four games as a freshman. The 5-9 guard from Seattle played in all 31 games. She averaged 2.6 points and 1.4 rebounds.

'Angie is an extremely intelligent baskestball player who knows and understands the game,' Daugherty said. 'She has shown her determination by overcoming several injuries and returns better than ever and is ready to compete. Angie can make things happen with her pressure defense and ability to run the floor which should open scoring opportunities for her.'

Craddock, whose cousin is Husky men's basketball standout Nate Robinson, originally came to Washington on a track scholarship but joined the team as a walkon during preseason practice. Craddock played in 20 games, recording the highest three-point field goal shooting percentage (.444) on the team.

'Cheri is extremely athletic and is a versatile player who can create her scoring opportunities,' Daugherty said. 'She does not back down to any challenge that the game brings. Cheri earned valuable playing time last year that should provide her with good experience in her sophomore season.'

Schelly returns to the court for the first time since 2002-03 after redshirting last year. A broken foot suffered in the first day of practice last October sidelined her for the entire season.

'Erica is a floor leader who can make several things happen in the running game or our set offense,' Daugherty said. 'She is a good decision maker who takes great pride in her defense and playmaking abilities. Erica loves the game and is a tireless worker.'

UW's post play will revolve around returning forwards Watson, Bell and O'Hara. Watson, who was sidelined for five games with a shoulder injury, is another returning starter. She was right behind Hicks in productivity, averaging six points and 3.7 rebounds and adding aggressive intensity at the forward position. 'Effort, intensity, pride and desire describes Breanne,' Daugherty said. 'She had a solid freshman season and contributed greatly. She is a hard worker and a physical force in the post position.'

Also a force for Washington at the post position will be Bell, who was second only to Giuliana Mendiola in rebounding last year and pulled down a team-high 16 boards in a single-game. Bell also received a nod to the Pac-10 All-Freshman honorable mention team. She started nine games and played in all 31.

'We're looking forward to seeing Jill's leadership and defensive abilities step up to the next level,' Daugherty said. 'She is a dangerous player with multiple skills. Jill can control the glass on both ends of the court. She is a difficult match-up for most opponents as she utilizes her athletic talent.'

O'Hara saw valuable minutes at the post, providing the Huskies with tenacious play on the boards. The Boise native played in 30 games, averaging 2.3 points and 3.0 rebounds.

'Maggie is a 'Dennis Rodman' type player with a positive team attitude,' Daugherty said. 'She's not afraid to get physical in the post. Maggie understands the value of controlling the paint defensively by rebounding. She provides a lot of energy to the game and the team.'

The Huskies will have the challenge of integrating five incoming freshmen to the squad, but have the luxury of those players coming to Seattle with stellar basketball careers already behind them.

Banks, a guard from St. Mary's High School in Stockton, Calif., totes outstanding prep credentials. Following the end of her senior season in 2003, Banks was named Cal-High Sports Ms. Basketball Player of the Year. She also led her high school team to two state championship crowns and one runner-up finish. She was the All-Area Player of the Year as a junior, after earning All-Area first-team honors as a sophomore. Banks enrolled in school at Washington in the 2004 spring quarter.

Clark is a guard from Southern California, who was a four-year letterwinner at Harvard-Westlake High School in North Hollywood. She was a two-time first-team All-CIF selection and a two-time first-team all-league honoree. Also a standout track athlete, Clark competed in the prestigious Penn State Relays in 2003 with Harvard-Westlake's 4x100-meter relay.

The Boise pipeline continues to make good for Washington, as UW welcomes a player from Timberline High School for the second-straight year. Freshman guard Emily Florence, a former teammate of O'Hara's, brings an outstanding resume to Seattle. Florence was named the 5A Idaho State Female Player of the Year in 2004 and was a McDonald's All-American nominee. She helped lead her Timberline team to a state title in 2003 and state runner-up honors in 2004. A stellar soccer player as well, Florence was the Idaho Gatorade Player of the Year for girl's soccer in 2004.

Another freshman guard, Jackie Hollands, hails from the storied girl's basketball program which is Oregon City High School. Hollands was a McDonald's All-American nominee and a Street and Smith honorable mention selection as a senior in 2004. She received All-State honors last year and led her Oregon City team to four-straight Oregon 4A state championship titles.

Rounding out the 2005 freshman class is forward Andrea Plouffe, who the Huskies will use at the post position along with Bell, Watson and O'Hara. Plouffe hails from Edmonton, Alberta, and played with the Canadian Junior Development Team in Toronto during the summer of 2003. Plouffe led her prep basketball team to three-straight league championships. She missed most of her senior year due to knee surgery, but looks to be in good shape when the Huskies hit the court his fall.

Washington also has a tradition for putting together a challenging schedule. Year in and year out Washington plays teams that rank among the best in the nation and 2004-05 promises to be no different. 'I am proud of our preseason game schedule and hope it will give us some answers early,' Daugherty said. 'Playing against other power conference teams will challenge us early and will help us prepare for the fierce Pac-10 conference play. I know our loyal fans will enjoy our games both home and away this year.'

On this year's slate will be seven teams that played in the NCAA Tournament last year and three that competed in the WNIT. Included among those teams are Final Four team Minnesota, Elite Eight team Stanford and Sweet 16 teams Notre Dame and Baylor. UNLV made it to last year's WNIT championship game as well.

UNLV and Minnesota will be two of the teams on hand for UW's season opening tournament, the WBCA BTI Classic, held at Bank of America Arena Nov. 14-15. Making the four-team field complete will be SEC team South Carolina.

Washington will also host its annual Seattle Times Husky Classic Nov. 26-27, at Bank of America Arena. That four-team field includes Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Alabama and Columbia. Additional non-conference home games feature Baylor and Colorado. UW's non-conference road games include trips to Michigan, Utah, Denver and Notre Dame.

Like always, the Pac-10 schedule will once again be challenging. Arizona, Arizona State, Stanford, Oregon State and UCLA all joined the Huskies in postseason play last year. Arizona, Stanford and UCLA played in the NCAA Tournament, while ASU and Oregon State were WNIT competitors, along with UW.

For good measure, Seattle will be home to the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament for the second-straight season. Last year, Bank of America Arena served as the site for the 2004 NCAA West Regional, while this year the Huskies will serve as one of eight sites for the First and Second Rounds of the 2005 championship.

All the key ingredients appear to be in place for Washington to build upon the first 30 years of Husky tradition in the sport of women's basketball. And come championship time, the Huskies could very well be playing on their home court this March.

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