Women's Basketball Outlook
Oct. 21, 2003
TEMPE, Ariz. - It's been said that every cloud has a silver lining.
If the 'cloud' for Arizona State last year was its youth and with a starting lineup featuring three true freshmen and two sophomores, the 'silver lining' (or 'gold lining' to the Sun Devil faithful) will be that just about everyone on the roster is back and ASU has added a stellar recruiting class of three freshmen that was ranked as high as eighth in the nation.
ASU returns nine letterwinners and five starters from a team that, despite its challenges last year, upset three ranked opponents, turned in a winning record and earned a trip to the Women's National Invitation Tournament, ASU's school-record fourth consecutive postseason appearance. And if that core group of returners and highly touted crop of freshmen wasn't enough to make eighth-year head coach Charli Turner Thorne smile, the Sun Devils welcome back junior Betsy Boardman who missed all of the 2002-03 season after suffering a knee injury in the preseason.
As she heads into the 2003-04 campaign, Turner Thorne will have the luxury of coaching one of the deepest and most talented team she has had in her eight seasons at the helm, something that bodes well for the Sun Devils this year.
'Picking up from last year where we started three freshmen and two sophomores, we had an amazing amount of growth and experience gained,' she said. 'After a season where we had virtually no veteran players, it was so crystal clear what each player and the team needed to do in the off-season. That gave us tremendous motivation and direction for a team that is still very young to get back to the gym and really build on what we accomplished last year.'
According to Turner Thorne, the experiences her young team has already had - with many players just one year into their careers - will only serve to benefit the team and program this year and for many seasons to come.
'We are tremendously excited about this year, especially after having a season like last year where our young players endured some struggles but still weathered those challenges with a winning record and a school-record fourth consecutive postseason appearance. Injuries are never a good thing, but because of the injuries we endured last year, we have players who had to learn fast and grow in ways that they might not have. All of our players have truly been in pressure situations and been on the free throw line or in a game when we needed to hit a big shot, get a big rebound or make a defensive stop to win. Some kids go two or three years without being in that kind of situation, so I think it's all going to be for the betterment of our players' careers and for the betterment of Arizona State women's basketball.'
While the 2003-04 Sun Devil squad will still be extremely young with just one senior, four juniors, five sophomores and three freshmen, Turner Thorne believes that her team has the talent to return to the top of the Pac-10 Conference this year, a place they got used to after winning a share of the Pac-10 title in 2001 and the Pac-10 Tournament title in 2002.
'We fully intend to be back to championship form this year,' she said. 'With a veteran like Betsy Boardman back in the mix, three tremendously talented freshmen and a core group that accomplished great things last year, it is really exciting to think about what we will be able to accomplish this season.
'This year, I think we have a team that is ready to take that next step, continuing to compete for the Pac-10 championship and progress further than we've ever been in the 2003 NCAA Tournament. I truly believe that we will accomplish more than any team in the history of Arizona State women's basketball in the near future because of the challenges that we have gone through.'
The Sun Devils will get off to a fast start this season, taking on eight teams that went to the NCAA Tournament and six that won their conference championships last year. ASU opens the season with Akron and Grambling State at Wells Fargo Arena on Nov. 21 and 23 before heading to Grand Bahama Island for the Junkanoo Jam over the Thanksgiving weekend. The Sun Devils will play Kansas State, an NCAA Tournament team that will be ranked in the top 10 in the nation this fall, in its first game in the tournament and either Penn State or George Washington in their second. Both Penn State and George Washington won their leagues last year, advanced to the 2003 NCAA Tournament and should be ranked in the national top 25 this season.
After their trip to the Bahamas, ASU returns home to host the Wells Fargo Holiday Classic featuring Binghamton, Montana State and Western Michigan on Dec. 5-6 and wraps up the non-conference home slate with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Dec. 10. After a week off for finals, the Sun Devils head east for a highlight of the 2003-04 campaign, traveling to Hartford, Conn., to take on two-time defending national champion Connecticut on Dec. 18 and then to Worcester, Mass., to take on perennial Patriot League contender Holy Cross on Dec. 20.
'I am very excited about our preseason schedule,' Turner Thorne said. 'It will be a tremendous test and great preparation for our team in terms of getting back to winning a Pac-10 Conference championship. Our schedule is going to test us to our limits, and our players are very excited about the challenge. This is certainly the schedule we wanted to have.'
ASU opens its Pac-10 Conference slate at home with Washington State and Washington in the last week in December before hitting the road for three straight, traveling to Arizona, Stanford and California in the first two weeks of January. UCLA and USC visit Wells Fargo Arena in January, while the Sun Devils will play host to intrastate rival Arizona on Jan. 31 in Tempe.
Cal, Stanford, Oregon and Oregon State visit Tempe in February, while the Sun Devils wrap up the Pac-10 regular-season slate on the road with a trip to Washington and Washington State on the final week of the month. Arizona State then heads to San Jose, Calif., for the third annual State Farm Pac-10 Women's Basketball Tournament March 5-8 at the HP Pavilion.
March Madness will come to Tempe this spring with Arizona State playing host to the first and second rounds of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament March 20 and 22 at Wells Fargo Arena. If the Sun Devils earn their third NCAA Tournament appearance in four years this season, the team will have the chance to play in front of the Sun Devil faithful for the first two rounds of the 'Big Dance.'
To say that the Sun Devils are loaded in the frontcourt this year would be an understatement.Turner Thorne has the luxury of seeing both of her starters and all four of her letterwinners from last year's frontcourt return, while with the addition of true freshmen Aubree Johnson and Emily Westerberg, who were both named the high school player of the year in their respective states last season, the Sun Devils will be more athletic and versatile than they have ever been in the post.
Leading Arizona State's frontcourt will be senior Jen Albert who looks to end her four-year career with her best season ever. A team captain last year and just the second two-time first-team Pac-10 All-Academic selection in school history, Albert is a versatile, unselfish player who provides veteran leadership on and off the court in addition to sporting one of the best three-point shots on the squad. She started six games last year and was the team's leading scorer off the bench at 4.8 points per game. With 90 career games under her belt, Albert stands poised to have a breakout season in her final year in Tempe.
'Jen has made considerable improvement since coming to Arizona State, and I really see it all coming together for her in her senior year,' Turner Thorne said. 'She is one of our best shooters and is one of the most vocal players we have in terms of court leadership. Throughout her career, Jen has always been willing to do whatever I need her to do. She can be a scorer or a great screener. She's that type of unselfish, smart player, and I have high expectations for Jen in her senior year.'
Kristen Kovesdy returns for her sophomore year after bursting onto the Pac-10 scene with a phenomenal rookie season that saw her become the first Sun Devil freshman to lead the team in rebounding in nine years and earn honorable-mention Pac-10 All-Freshman honors. Stepping into the shoes of Melody Johnson, a two-time all-conference selection, Kovesdy proved to be more than up for the challenge, finishing seventh in the Pac-10 in field goal percentage at 51.0 percent and 10th in rebounding with 6.1 boards per game. Winner of ASU's Coach's Award last year, Kovesdy earned a starting role seven games into the season and established herself as a force to be reckoned with in the paint. As she continues to improve, Kovesdy has the potential to be one of the best post players to ever suit up for the Sun Devils.
'Obviously Kristen stepped in and met and exceeded our expectations last year in terms of being our low-block threat and leading our team in rebounding,' Turner Thorne said. 'I know how smart, motivated and hardworking Kristen is, and I am giddy about where she can get to if she keeps up this pace. I am looking for Kristen to come into her sophomore year even more aggressive and confident in terms of taking it at people. Not many players in the country have the combined quickness, speed and strength of a player like Kristen. She is truly special in terms of the physical attributes she brings to the game. I couldn't be more excited about her growth and development.'
ASU's second returning starter in the frontcourt is sophomore Amy Denson, a fiery competitor who also shined on the Pac-10 stage and had a major impact as a freshman last year. Denson broke into the starting lineup at the beginning of the season, starting 29 of 30 games and finishing second on the team in both scoring (9.9 points per game) and rebounding (6.0 rebounds per game). She earned first-team Pac-10 All-Freshman honors and led the team with 6.2 rebounds per game in the Pac-10 season. Despite all of her accomplishments in her rookie campaign, Denson has worked hard in the off-season to have an even better sophomore year.
'Amy Denson obviously came in and had a major impact as a freshman,' Turner Thorne said. 'Amy was one of our most consistent scorers and rebounders on the road last year, an area where we struggled. To me, that indicated a great sign of her maturity and potential for toughness. It doesn't always show up in the statistics, but Amy Denson is a true warrior. Amy's intensity is off the charts, and her teammates have singled her out as one of our fiercest competitors and most dependable teammates. I know Amy is working tremendously hard to have an even better sophomore year. She will be even stronger and fitter and continues to improve some already well-refined basketball skills.'
Also looking to make even bigger contribution this year is sophomore Jenny Thigpin. A versatile, highly skilled post player, Thigpin improved as the season went on last year, making some of her biggest contributions to the team down the stretch of the Pac-10 season. She averaged 3.0 points and 2.7 rebounds per game and finished second on the team with 16 blocked shots. According to Turner Thorne, Thigpin has unlimited potential and has worked hard to realize even more of that potential in her second year in Tempe.
'I think we all enjoyed watching Jenny blossom and become a key player throughout the Pac-10 season last year,' she said. 'Jenny has barely scratched the surface in terms of doing everything she is capable of. Jenny is a calmer and more confident player now than she was as a freshman. She has slowed her moves down and has a great sense of what to expect and how to progress. This year, I look for Jenny to utilize her improved fitness level to become more aggressive on offense, run the floor well and give us a shot-blocking presence in the paint.'
Joining ASU's four veterans in the frontcourt are a pair of best friends from the Pacific Northwest in Aubree Johnson and Emily Westerberg. While Johnson and Westerberg bring different strengths to the court, the pair has a couple of traits in common that make them a perfect fit for the Sun Devils: versatility and a winning mentality. The pair helped lead their AAU team to two national championships and a runner-up finish, and both come to Tempe as two-time state high school players of the year.
'With Aubree and Emily, you have a unique situation because they are best friends. They are different kinds of players, but we felt we could use both of them,' Turner Thorne said. 'They will help us be more versatile and athletic in the post, which will fill an immediate need for us.'
Johnson comes to ASU after starring at Post Falls (Idaho) High School where she was the 2002 and 2003 Idaho 4A Player of the Year. A versatile, athletic power forward with great perimeter skills, she finished her career as the all-time leading scorer at Post Falls and led her team to state championships in each of her last two seasons. Johnson capped off an outstanding prep career by hitting the game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer in the state championship game.
'At 6-2, Aubree is very versatile and can play inside and out,' Turner Thorne said. 'Aubree can shoot the three or take you inside. Her versatility and athleticism combine to make her not only a tremendously tough match-up but a perfect fit with our system. Aubree is very strong and very smart, and like Betsy Boardman, she can play any position from the two to the five.'
Westerberg was a two-time Washington 4A Player of the Year, leading her Central Valley High School team to an 82-4 record in her three seasons on the squad, state titles in both 2001 and 2002 and a runner-up finish in 2003. An intense, athletic post player, Westerberg was the Greater Spokane League MVP in each of her last two seasons and ended her prep career as the conference's all-time leading scorer.
'People are going to love watching Emily play. I love that she only knows how to play hard and gives 100 percent all of the time. Emily is an exceptional rebounder and has an incredible feel around the basket. At 6-0, she is one of those players who may give a couple of inches in the post, but she will get the most out of the mismatch.'
ASU's backcourt is the most veteran part of the team with four juniors, including three with starting experience, returning in 2003-04. With 160 combined starts to their credit, veteran guards Betsy Boardman, Carrie Buckner and Kylan Loney should lead the way for the Sun Devils this season.
Junior Betsy Boardman headlines the trio of returning starters and is eager to get back on the court after being sidelined all of last year after tearing her ACL on the second day of practice last season. A 2001 Pac-10 All-Freshman selection and one of the team's leaders, Boardman started all 65 games and led the team in steals in each of her first two seasons in Tempe. She had a chance to get back on the court during ASU's summer trip to Australia, averaging 10.4 points and 6.0 rebounds in the five games, and is more ready than ever to return to the court in 2003-04.
'Words cannot express how happy I am to have Betsy back in the lineup,' Turner Thorne said. 'There are very few players who have what Betsy has. She brings it all and is a winner. She is one of the best shooters and one of the smartest players on the team in addition to being a strong defender and rebounder and a mature leader. All along she has been on track or ahead of schedule in her rehabilitation. She learned a lot from watching last year and tried to take advantage of the time to work on things. I have very little doubt that Betsy is primed to have one of her best seasons ever.'
Also ready to turn in her best season in an already impressive short career is junior point guard Kylan Loney. A tough, intense competitor who has started all 64 games in her first two seasons, Loney has continued to improve and mature each year. She led the team in assists and three-point shooting last year and already ranks in the ASU career lists in both categories after only two years. According to Turner Thorne, Loney worked hard on her decision-making and leadership in the off-season and is primed for a breakout year as she heads into her junior campaign.
'I felt like Kylan was one of the most improved players on the team last year, and based on her off-season, she could be up for that award again,' she said. 'Kylan has worked tirelessly to build on her strengths: her perimeter shooting, her defense and her attack to the basket. The third year is usually where you see the greatest improvement in a player, and I know we are going to see that in Kylan. At times, I almost need to lock her up from her unbridled passion to be the best she can be. As a floor leader, she will need to come back and balance that competitiveness with maturity and a calming presence.'
Carrie Buckner returns for her junior year after turning in one of the most consistent efforts on the team last year. One of two players to start all 30 games, Buckner stepped up her scoring and rebounding last year to go along with her always rock-solid defensive effort. She finished fourth on the team in scoring and rebounding with 8.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, nearly doubling her averages from the previous season. Buckner also led the team and finished fifth in the league with 2.1 steals per game. According to Turner Thorne, Buckner has worked hard in the off-season to become more comfortable with the ball, and that should be the final step for Buckner as she enters her junior season.
'I was very pleased with the way that Carrie took another step as a sophomore. She came in to our program with a defensive mentality, but by the end of last season, she was one of our top offensive players and most aggressive scorers in addition to her contributions on defense,' Turner Thorne said. 'Carrie is so dependable and consistent and such a disciplined, focused young lady. It is so much fun to coach her because I know that come game-day, she is going to be ready to give a tremendous effort. Carrie showed great leadership last year in terms of who she was and how she played on a daily basis. I am very excited for Carrie to take what she learned and build on those contributions this year.'
Junior Lauren Stagg also looks to have a greater impact as she returns for her third season in Tempe. A versatile guard with great court vision and willingness to do whatever it takes to help her team, Stagg has continued to improve each year and averaged 2.0 points and 1.5 rebounds per game in 30 games last year. According to Turner Thorne, Stagg should play a critical role for the Sun Devils in 2003-04.
'Lauren is an exciting player with great passing skills and a flair for big plays,' Turner Thorne said. 'Lauren has really worked on her defense and her consistency with her shot. Lo has also matured in terms of her work ethic and her understanding of all facets of the game at this level, and I am really excited for her going into her junior year. Lauren's teammates love playing with her because they know she'll find them. She's got a great sense of humor and always adds to our chemistry when she's on the floor.'
Rejoining ASU's four upperclassmen in the backcourt is sophomore YoVanna Rosenthal, an aggressive, defensive dynamo who showed the ability to make big things happen in a short amount of time last year. She spent much of her first season in Tempe learning the nuances of the team system but continued to improve and made major contributions down the stretch last year. The winner of ASU's Most Improved Award, she averaged 3.8 points per game over the last five contests of the season and turned in 22 steals on the year. Rosenthal worked hard on her offensive arsenal this off-season and has the skills and drive to have a major impact on both ends of the floor as a sophomore.
'While her contributions weren't always measured in the game, YoVanna was a big sparkplug for us last year. From the middle of the Pac-10 season and through the spring, she was consistently one of our best scorers in practice, and everything really started to come together for her,' Turner Thorne said. 'She has all of the tools and skills to play the game, but it has just been a matter of learning the nuances of a team system at this level for her. YoVanna can help us in so many ways from getting a stop, breaking players down one-on-one and igniting our transition game. I am so excited to see what she will accomplish as a sophomore.'
Freshman Alisha Godette is the lone newcomer in the ASU backcourt, but it will not take long for the explosive, focused player to make a major impact for the Sun Devils. Godette comes to ASU after starring at Doherty High School in Colorado Springs, Colo., where she was a 2003 fourth-team Parade All-American. A two-time all-state selection, Godette averaged 19.4 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.1 steals per game last year and will make an immediate impact on both ends of the floor for the Sun Devils this season.
'Alisha is truly one of the most explosive players I've ever been around,' Turner Thorne said. 'She has a very special combination of aggressiveness and grace to go along with amazing basketball skills. Alisha can take over a game and is an amazing rebounder. Once she adapts to the pace of the game, she is going to be setting the pace. Alisha is quiet, but she has a fire in her belly. She truly wants to be a great player, and if she continues to work hard, Alisha is going to be great.'
Missing from the mix in the backcourt will be sophomore Jill Noe who burst onto the Pac-10 scene last year as a true freshman. Noe will redshirt the 2003-04 season after tearing the ACL in her left knee in preseason workouts in early October. She started 29 of 30 games and earned first-team Pac-10 All-Freshman honors last season. Noe also became the first Sun Devil rookie to lead the team in scoring in four years, averaging 12.6 points per game, and finished second on the team in three-point shooting, assists and steals. While Turner Thorne is disappointed to lose Noe for the season, she knows that the year will pay dividends for Noe and the team down the road.
'I feel so bad for Jill because this is a young lady who came in and had a sensational freshman year but had not rested on her laurels one bit,' Turner Thorne said. 'Jill had worked twice as hard to prepare herself for this season, and I feel so badly that she will not get to capitalize on all of that hard work. She is extremely driven and motivated, but she is also fun and easy-going, and those are the reasons that everyone loves being around her. I am so excited when you look at what she did with no veteran players around her. I get little butterflies in my stomach when I think about what she can be as she continues to improve.
'Jill has the combination of skill and will that you have to have for a team to win championships. When she comes back next year, Jill is going to break a lot of records and lead her team to unprecedented success before her career is done. We're trying to look at the bright side. Jill hasn't lost a season, she's gained one, and we all know how much brighter, stronger and more mature players are when they are playing in their fifth year. Our loss this year will be our gain in the following three years.'