Husky Women's Basketball Season Preview

Oct. 29, 2008

Head coach Tia Jackson has a lot to look forward to entering her second season at the helm of the Washington women's basketball program.

Her 2008-09 roster features seven returners including the veteran leadership of two seniors and three juniors ready to build on last year's performance. Add to the mix a talented group of eight newcomers and the sky is the limit for this year's edition of Husky women's hoops.

That's not to say the challenges aren't there for Jackson who lost five letterwinners - including four starters - from last year's squad. Among that group were senior leaders who made their mark both on and off the floor, Emily Florence and Andrea Plouffe. Inuries wreaked havoc on the young team from beginning to end, but last season saw UW post a 13-18 record, finish sixth in the Pac-10 with an 8-10 league mark and pull off some exciting upsets along the way.

'To be picked to finish sixth in the Pac-10 and to actually finish sixth with this team and amidst the adversity we faced, I feel like we accomplished a lot,' Jackson said. 'We learned a lot. The ladies are already taking ownership. They understand the commitment it is going to take to be the Pride of the West. We want to continue to show that we are national contenders, and not just Northwest and Pac-10 contenders. This year they have come in with a new attitude and a swagger about them. They are eager to start this new season.'

Jackson's motto for the team continues to be P.R.I.D.E. of the West, with the pride acronym standing for persistence, respect, integrity, discipline and energy.

'Our motto will always be Pride of the West,' Jackson said. 'We want to represent this program and do certain things. As far as expectations, we want to build a championship culture. It's an attitude we are going to have not just for this year, but for every year.'

During the off-season, Jackson had t-shirts made for the players with three numbers on the back - 4/20/64. They serve as a reminder for the program's goals and expectations.

'We want to finish top-four in the Pac-10,' she said. 'We want to win the Pac-10, obviously, but if you finish in the top-four you know you're going to the field of 64 because our conference continues to get stronger. We want to have a 20 wins every year. The last part, the 64, is not only to get to the NCAA Tournament, but to have longevity in the postseason. That is the culture we are building.'

Looking to get the Huskies back in postseason play, will be the squad's top returning scorer and rebounder in junior guard/forward Sami Whitcomb, along with senior guard/forward Michelle Augustavo and senior forward Heidi McNeill. Forward/center Laura McLellan and guard Sara Mosiman round out the returning junior class. Other returners include sophomore guard Sarah Morton and redshirt-freshman forward/center Mackenzie Argens.

The seven returners have welcomed eight new faces, a group that includes five freshmen, two junior college transfers and UCLA transfer Regina Rogers, who will sit out the season due to NCAA rules.

Jackson showed her talents on the recruiting trail, bringing in a trio of nationally ranked recruits in her initial November, 2008, signing class with 18th-ranked Liz Lay (Oklahoma City, Okla.), 44th-ranked Kristi Kingma (Mill Creek, Wash.) and 64th-ranked Mollie Williams (Cerritos, Calif.).

In the spring, Jackson added Australian standout Nicole Romeo (Adelaide, South Australia) and local product Charmaine Barlow (Seattle, Wash.) to the freshman class, as well as junior college transfers Christina Rozier (Miami, Fla.) and Lydia Young (Detroit, Mich.) who were teammates at Southeastern Illinois C.C.

'We've brought in some highly skilled and motivated players to replace those who have left,' Jackson said. 'To see our seven that remain taking on those new eight, it's like watching a piece of artwork being created. It's beautiful work right now. Our goal is to continue to progress, continue to grow and let the chips fall where they may.'

With so many new players on the squad, leadership will be key to keep everyone together. The Huskies will look to fill in for Florence and Plouffe who occupied those roles one year ago. Florence was the floor general and a leader by example, while Plouffe was the vocal and emotional leader. Both shared tri-captain duties with Augustavo.

While captains have not yet been selected for 2008-09, the returners have taken on that role together, almost as one.

'These young ladies have taken the helm and embraced it,' Jackson said. 'There is not a single person who is leading the team, it is one collective group.'

In addition to eight new players, Jackson added a new face to her coaching staff. Former Oregon State head coach and Washington native Judy Spoelstra joined the group as an assistant, replacing Katie Abrahamson-Henderson who took an associate head coaching post at Indiana.

'You never want to lose anyone on your staff, but if you have to find a substitution, Judy definitely fits the mold and then some,' Jackson said. 'She has a great deal of head coaching experience and is known for her creativity on and off the court. She has fit in right away and is an enjoyable person to have on our staff.'

Both new and returning players alike will showcase the Huskies' signature style that features an exciting running game, along with tenacious defense that will generate their offense.

'We are a running team and a pressing team,' Jackson said. 'Pressing doesn't always mean full court pressure, it also means getting teams out of their comfort zone. A lot of that is generated by what we do defensively, due to the fact we get creative. Different lineups mean different things for us. But at the same time we take our defense to create offensive opportunities for us us.'

BACK COURT

Washington will boast an athletic, sharp-shooting back court this season, a group led by Whitcomb, who finished with 11.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.0 steals last season.

'Our back court shoots very well,' Jackson said with regards to what this group's strengths will be. 'That is one area opposing teams are going to have to be concerned about is how well we shoot the ball. We also rebound the ball very well from the perimeter spot because of our athleticism.'

Whitcomb showcased all of those areas during her breakout sophomore campaign that saw her named to the inaugural Pac-10 Defensive honorable mention team. She finished the season tied for third in the Pac-10 in steals. Whitcomb was also one of the Huskies' go-to players on offense with 16 double-figure scoring games and a pair of 20-point efforts. But Jackson will still look for more from her top returning guard.

'Sami is going to show a lot more versatility this year, both inside and outside,' Jackson said. 'She is our scorer and will have no problems proving that this season.'

Returning guards also looking to contribute will be Augustavo, Mosiman and Morton. Augustavo is a long-range shooting specialist and turned in a few explosive efforts from beyond the arc last year, but wasn't able to find her stroke as consistently as she might have liked.

'I see Michelle blossoming right now,' Jackson said. 'As much as she was labeled a shooter last season and her percentage didn't exemplify that. But right now we're seeing it in her every single day in practice. Michelle has truly stepped up.'

Mosiman played in all 31 games last year despite battling injuries all season long, averaging 4.5 points and finishing third on the team with 58 assists. She will look to improve upon those contributions in her junior campaign.

'Mo's determination is insurmountable,' Jackson said. 'She's got that strong will. I can see her being a key contributor.'

Morton came off the bench in 20 games last year, serving as the back-up point guard for Florence. She will hope to challenge for the starting role this season. Jackson has already labeled Morton as one of three Huskies who have made the most improvement from last year along with McLellan and Whitcomb.

'Morty has gotten stronger,' Jackson said. 'She's not going to be knocked around like she was last year. She embraced everything I gave her for the summer and she came back with a new image and a new attitude about her. You'll also see her take on more of that leadership role that Emily brought last season - Morty-style.'

Newcomers with a chance to shine in their freshman campaigns will be rookies Kristi Kingma and Nicole Romeo. Kingma will look to build on a highly decorated high school career that saw her set the 4A Washington state tournament scoring record with 43 points as a senior. In her final year she averaged 23.1 points and was named the Seattle Times High School Girls Star of the Year for the second-straight season. She also led her prep team to three-straight state tournament appearances.

'Kristi is a young lady who you know is going to have an immediate impact,' Jackson said. 'She brings so much knowledge and firepower to the game.'

Romeo will also look to be an immediate factor and compete for the starting point guard role, bringing international playing experience to Montlake. She was a member of the South Australian team that played in the Under-20, Under-18 and Under-16 Australian National Championships and most recently helped the squad to the 2008 U-20 Australian National Championships gold medal.

'Nicole is one of the purest point guards you will ever see,' Jackson said. 'She provides floor leadership that every point guard should posses, along with a three-point shot that cannot be touched.'

Not to be overlooked will be junior college transfer Christina Rozier who also brings two years of collegiate experience, playing in the junior college national tournament the last two seasons. She helped her Southeastern Illinois squad to a 33-3 record and a No. 1 national ranking in 2006-07.

'Christina is a tremendous player with exceptional ball handling skills,' Jackson said. 'She can penetrate to the basket at will, while at the same time provide a picture perfect jumper from beyond the arc.'

FRONT COURT

Like the Husky back court, the front court will feature a mix of returners and newcomers looking to contribute. McLellan will lead the group that will thrive on its versatility on the floor.

'Our front court is very versatile,' Jackson said. 'We have post players who can bang inside and also face up. It's a nice little combination to have inside. We will look to mix it up.'

McLellan played an important role last year, but battled injuries the entire season. Despite her adversity, she averaged 7.0 points and 3.9 rebounds in 23 games, getting a starting nod six times. She ended up sharing the team lead in blocks (15).

'Laura didn't get to show a lot of her versatility last year,' Jackson said. 'You saw some highs and lows, but we're seeing many more highs right now. She can face-up and attack players and also play down low with her back to the basket. In addition, she is also one of our better rebounders.'

McNeill will also look to make the most of her senior year after seeing increased playing time as a junior last season. McNeill played in every game and made 13 starts, while averaging 2.7 points and 2.3 rebounds.

Jackson sees this year being extra important for McNeill and her fellow senior, Augustavo, in terms of what they can and should contribute to the squad.

'Heidi needs to have that attitude that this is it,' Jackson said. 'She has to be thinking that I'm going to go out there and give it everything I possibly have because there is no next year. From that perspective, we definitely want to see both Heidi and Michelle contribute in whatever way they can.'

The other returning post player is Argens, but her freshman season was over nearly before it began after suffering a torn ACL in a November practice. Argens played in four games before enduring the season-ending injury, but has worked hard to rehabilitate and should be ready for the start of the season.

'Any time you are coming off an injury it can be a mental battle,' Jackson said. 'Right now we are helping Mackenzie with strengthening her mentally. You can already see she is buying in and wants to get out there on the floor and contribute.'

Four newcomers will also look to contribute at the forward position including Barlow, Lay, Williams and Young. Lay's start will be slowed a bit after undergoing knee surgery during her senior year in high school and will most likely continue to rehab through the Huskies' preseason slate. The fifth new post player, Rogers, will sit out the year due to NCAA transfer rules.

That leaves Barlow, Williams and Young ready to make an immediate impact. Barlow comes from a highly decorated high school program at Chief Sealth in Seattle, helping the squad to back-to-back state titles as a freshman and sophomore.

'Charmaine is a fantastic small forward with explosiveness in two primary areas - rebounding and defense,' Jackson said. 'She will be a fan favorite because she will do all the intangibles every team needs.'

Young, like Rozier, brings previous collegiate experience with her having played for an extremely successful junior college program. Jackson will look to both Young and Williams on the defensive end.

'Lydia is a player who is going to generate a lot defensively,' she said. 'She takes pride in what she does offensively on the court. She feels she can score at will and defend anyone. Mollie is a defensive player for us and she is a rebounder. Those are things we see her focusing on this year.'

SCHEDULE

Once again, Washington will be challenged with a difficult schedule when the ball is tipped beginning Nov. 16. Among those squads the Huskies will be facing include eight teams that went to the postseason last year highlighted by a pair of NCAA Final Four teams in Connecticut and Stanford.

The Huskies will host non-conference home contests with Kansas State, Gonzaga and Boise State. UW will travel to the Caribbean Classic MTE in Cancun (Dec. 18-21) where they will face UConn, Florida State and Northern Colorado. Additional non-conference road contests feature trips to Weber State and Pepperdine. Washington will host its annual Husky Classic over Thanksgiving weekend with Kent State, Clemson and Seattle University.And the Pac-10 schedule will also be a formidable slate of games beginning Jan. 3 with Washington State.

'To get the national recognition I've talked about, we have to play some people who already have it,' Jackson said. 'Kansas State won the Big 12 last year outright. UConn will be ranked somewhere around first or second in the country. Then Florida State finished in the Top-25. You look at those top-three right off the bat and realize they are going to be wonderful opportunities for us. Our preseason is going to get us ready for Pac-10 play. We are playing a lot of big names and our goal is to come out and surprise a few of them.'

If the Huskies can surprise a few of their opponents and achieve their goal of making the NCAA Tournament, the chance to play on their home court for the postseason will be awaiting them. UW's Bank of America Arena will be hosting the first and second rounds of the NCAA Championship this year and next.

But with the season yet to begin, Jackson doesn't want her team looking that far into the future just yet.

'It's great that we're hosting this year and next,' she said. 'But I tell our players not to look that far. We've got to take one practice at a time, one game at a time, one opponent at a time. I want them focused on getting better every day and I think everything will take care of itself because of that mindset.'

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