Women's Basketball Starts Practice Saturday
Oct. 13, 2004
CORVALLIS, Ore. - It's a new year and with it, a new challenge unfolds for the Oregon State University women's basketball team. The Beavers return 11 players and two starters from last season's squad that made its fourth consecutive postseason appearance with a trip to the Women's National Invitation Tournament.
OSU won a pair of postseason games for the first time since 1982 and bid farewell to a trio of student-athletes - Leilani Estavan, Brina Chaney, and Hollye Chapman - that helped to re-write the Beaver record book.
'I think it's always difficult at first to replace people who have done great things in the past, but every year, every team goes through this,' said 10th year head coach Judy Spoelstra. 'To measure the heart of our returning players and where their effort is going to be is the question mark right now.
'It will take some time and it'll take some games to get under their belt and good practices for that type of play, leadership, and position definition to really develop.'
Howell, a postseason honors candidate, earned honorable mention All-Pacific-10 Conference accolades while competing in 22 games for the Beavers when becoming eligible in December after transferring from University of Nebraska. The 5-9 guard was named Pac-10 Player of the Week after just two weekends in the league, became the first OSU player since 1996 to score 40 points in a single game, and reached double figures in scoring in 15 games, including scoring 20 or more on seven occasions.
OSU's leading returning scorer with 15.1 points per outing, Howell will be relied heavily upon to continue to put points on the board.
Known for her defensive prowess, Close, who averaged nearly 27 minutes per game a year ago, finished with 204 points and 104 rebounds on the season as a sophomore. She recorded big offensive numbers in key games for the Beavers, amassing a career-best 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting to lead OSU past No. 19 ranked Utah and finished with 17 points and six assists in the second round of the WNIT at Nebraska. The 5-11 guard's offensive numbers doubled from her freshman to sophomore season and it appears as if the Beavers could use that growth once again during her junior campaign.
Also playing a pivotal role in the backcourt will be Jessica Mellinger (formerly Jones), who has seen action in 94 games over the course of her career, as well as freshman Alcha Strane, who is counted on to make an immediate impact at running the point.
The remainder of the guard corps include, junior Anita Rivera, junior Ebony Young, redshirt sophomore Casey Bunn, who is healthy after receiving a medical hardship for the 2003-04 season, and sophomore Tarika Campbell. Bunn was averaging 8.4 points and 3.6 rebounds over five games before sitting out the remainder of the year with a sprained foot. A trio of walk-ons - sophomore Bailey Stokes, sophomore Melanie Casey, and freshman Kami Irwin - provide even greater depth at the guard position.
'Our strengths will be the guard play right off the back,' said Spoelstra. 'Our guard play has a lot of experience and we should be able to 'junk-up' our defense a lot more, put some more traps in and fly at a lot of people because we have good depth there which is a big strength.'
Junior forward Kim Butler who sat out last season after transferring from Santa Clara University heads the team in the post position, a spot that had been dominated the last two seasons by Chaney, Chapman and Krystal Turner. Junior Karen Vickery saw action in 29 games a year ago and sophomore Kerstin Brosterhous played in 25, but both saw limited minutes. Both players have had strong showings in the off-season and are poised to step into a more dominant role. Freshmen Tiffany Ducker and Claire Pallansch bring athleticism and rebounding to the post and junior college player Brittney Brown also hopes to get in on the mix.
'Our inside play we just don't know about yet,' said Spoelstra. 'I think we're very talented inside, but they haven't played very much at this level.'
Players will be thrown into the fire from the start, as the Beavers' schedule will prove to be a tough test, with Oregon State facing six teams in the non-conference skein that competed in the NCAA Tournament or WNIT in 2004.
'It will be exciting to see some of the new players who have been waiting in the wings the last two years finally get their opportunity to come out and play,' said Spoelstra. 'It will be really interesting to see their excitement, enthusiasm and their abilities.'
At the conclusion of the Pac-10 season in the last week of February, all 10 teams head to San Jose, CA, for the State Farm Pac-10 Tournament, where an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament lies within the reach of a few Pac-10 tourney victories. So, what do the Beavers need to focus on to get there?
'We really need to get back to defense and rebounding,' said Spoelstra. 'Our mantra for the season is defense and rebounding - that's what is going to get us to the championship level.'
Head coach Judy Spoelstra discusses the 2004-05 season with the media (October 12, 2004)
Overall outlook on the season:
'We're probably one of the least experienced teams in the Pac-10, so that's an area that we need to gain on quickly. You look at our preseason schedule and it's going to be trial by fire. We've got some tough opponents in there - at Florida, and we've got Kentucky and Rutgers down at the Virgin Islands Tournament - it's going to be tough, but I really like the spirit of this group. They stayed during the summer and worked really hard on their conditioning. I think any time you graduate four great players like we did last year, it always leaves an open door for the other players and once they see that opportunity on the threshold they go out there and really play.'
After losing four seniors (Leilani Estavan, Brina Chaney, Hollye Chapman, Krystal Turner) that played a lot of minutes, who do you see emerging as a leader and taking control of the point?
'I think the leader on the floor game-in and game-out will be Shannon Howell. Shannon's the player that everyone will notice and will want to come and watch play. She's the player that the opponents are probably going to be preparing for the most. Shannon can play the point for us and she can play the two. When we play Shannon at the two, we'll probably play Jessica Mellinger at the point guard spot. Jessica is a senior and gave us some great back-up minutes behind Leilani Estavan. We'll also be playing Alcha Strane, a freshman, who brings really good dimension to the game - great quickness and great defense - so I'm excited about her coming in and helping us out.'
The team had a lot of expectations placed on it last year, what are the feelings this season?
'The expectation thing can really get your goat in the end. I don't think there are any expectations on this team. We put our expectations on ourselves, and every year we try to win the Pac-10 Championship and we want to get to the NCAA Tournament. Sometimes it's a little easier going into a season knowing that you're not going to be the big dog running around on the porch, but you're one of the little nippers trying to catch that big dog, and that's when you get people by surprise. We're just going to have to coach the kids up this year. My staff knows that, and they've all been working very hard at the individual workouts instructing the players. I think we have a clear vision on where every player is right now and where they need to be for us to continue to be competitive, and I think we need to up our game in every position.'
Do you have the line-up figured out, or are there a lot of positions up for grabs?
'I think there are a lot of positions up for grabs. Rebounding is really something we wanted to shore-up from last year, and I think when we lost Casey Bunn and Ebony Young, we lost two great defensive players and the most likely people to dive after loose balls. It will be nice to get them back into practice. We got the redshirt year back for Casey Bunn, so she'll just be a sophomore this year, and Ebony Young was just cleared after tearing her ACL, so we're excited about getting her started on Monday. You look at our four and five spots, and that's an area where we need to shore-up a lot of rebounding as well. The addition of Claire Pallansch and Tiffany Ducker to our existing front-court will be nice. Karen Vickery put on a lot of really good size and turned a huge corner last February for us. Kerstin Brosterhous returns and Kim Butler, who transferred from Santa Clara, and has a lot of quickness and a lot of strength. I think she is going to be somebody that can really take the conference by surprise at the power forward spot.
Oregon State has always been a pressing team; will you use that same kind of style this season?
'It's our plan to have a quick start on defense and that's going to be our first two weeks of preparation - defense and rebounding. We're going to try and pick it up a little bit in the full court. We're going to have to make games as ugly as possible. My prediction is OSU 56, the opponent 55, and hopefully people will want to come and watch some hard working defensive players.'
TODAY | 1:30pm PTLive