Ten Schools in Ten Days: Oregon State Women's Basketball Season Preview

Oct. 24, 2005

A new era has begun for Oregon State's women's basketball program. First-year head coach LaVonda Wagner took over the reins on April 15, 2005 and from day-one has set out to build Oregon State basketball into a Pac-10 power.

Challenges lie ahead for the program that finished the 2004-05 season with a 6-23 overall record and went just 1-17 in conference action, but challenges are nothing new for Wagner. While serving eight seasons as an assistant and associate head coach at University of Illinois, Wagner helped build the Fighting Illini into one of the most competitive basketball programs in the country, including back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Sweet 16.

From there, Wagner broadened her basketball background by spending three seasons as assistant coach for national power Duke University. In her time at Duke, the Blue Devils made three straight NCAA Elite Eight appearances, including a trip to the 2003 Final Four.

A proven recruiter, Wagner signed three consecutive Top-5 national recruiting classes.

With 17 years of coaching experience on the sidelines and nine consecutive postseason appearances under her belt, Beaver supporters are eager to experience first-hand what Wagner can bring to Oregon State.

'The biggest challenge for me is learning the ins and outs of a new conference - the Pac-10,' said Wagner. 'The Pac-10 is an outstanding basketball conference with great coaches and very good players.'We need to find a way to compete. My goal is to put a team on the floor that can play hard, play smart, and play together.'

OSU returns seven players from last year's squad, including five seniors (Kim Butler, Mandy Close, Anita Rivera, Karen Vickery, and Ebony Young).The Beavers will rely upon a collective team effort to shoulder the scoring load after the departure of last season's leading scorer Shannon Howell (17.3 ppg.) to graduation.

'We will have to be a team that looks inside and outside offensively,' said Wagner. 'We're going to have to change-up our defense and get people off-balance and we will have to depend upon rebounding and taking care of the ball. We need to value the basketball and do something with our possessions.'

A trio of players - Butler, Close and junior guard Casey Nash - started 24+ games for the Beavers last season and will be expected to contribute heavily again in 2005-06.

Butler, from Tacoma, WA, is the Beavers' leading returning scorer after averaging 10.1 points and pulling down 4.5 rebounds per game as a junior.Close, from Bozeman, MT, is the most experienced player in the backcourt, having seen action in 90 games over the course of her career. Known as a tough defender, her 8.5 points per game were the third-highest total on the squad and she became just the fourth guard in program history to pull down 100 rebounds (101) in back-to-back seasons.

Nash, formerly Casey Bunn, married OSU men's basketball standout J.S. Nash in the off-season. Playing out of position a year ago, she led the Beavers in rebounding with 5.0 boards per game and ranked fourth on the squad in scoring with 5.3 points per outing.

'The strength of this team is the players coming back that have some experience,' said Wagner. 'Kim Butler, Mandy Close, and Casey Nash played a lot of minutes last year, but our biggest thing is that we need to play together as a team.'

Vickery, the squad's tallest player at 6-2, will team with sophomore Tiffany Ducker, who started 14 games as a freshman, to combine with Butler in the post position. Rivera, from Lake Elsinore, CA, and Young, from Oakland, CA, will bring added experience to the backcourt.

Three freshmen - Ebony White (Los Angeles), Mercedes Fox-Griffin (La Jolla, CA), and Stephisha Walton (Vallejo, CA) - were signed by the previous coaching staff and will be counted on to make a quick transition to the college game.

'This is a new system for the student-athletes,' said Wagner. 'They will need to learn the system and be able to execute. Execution will be a key to our success.'

In addition to Wagner, three new faces will appear on the sidelines with the hiring of assistant coaches Doshia Woods, Krista Reinking, and Patrick Harrington.

'We put together a very well-rounded staff and they all bring different things to the table,' said Wagner. 'Doshia Woods and Krista Reinking both played at the collegiate level in the point guard position and know what it's like to be the coach on the floor. They both were very good 3-point shooters and will be a major plus in helping our young women.

'Patrick Harrington will work with our interior players helping them to be aggressive and develop their footwork and all of the things they need to be successful.'

For Wagner, the objective is clear: it's all about establishing excellence. Excellence on and off the court, as well as, in and out of the classroom.'The only way we can go is up, and we're very excited about that,' said Wagner. 'We're excited about the whole rise of the athletic department and we just want to be a part of the rise and find a way to be successful in a program that can start at one level and get to another level.'A new era has begun...come along for the ride.

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