2017-18 #WCChoops Women's Basketball Preview

Nov. 7, 2017

By John Crumpacker
#WCChoops Columnist

Just as with the men’s side of the conference, West Coast Conference women’s basketball is defined by a clear top three, a few teams at or near .500 and the rest scrambling to be competitive with everyone else.

Going into the 2017-18 season, the WCC’s women’s head coaches picked Gonzaga as the favorite to win the championship, with Saint Mary’s second and BYU third. Among the men, the order was Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga and BYU.

Men or women, life at the top of the WCC is good, it’s hit-or-miss in the middle and it’s a rocky road indeed for teams at the bottom of the conference. As WCC women prepare for the coming season, the top teams strive to remain where they are, those in the middle are keen to move up and those at the bottom just want to show signs of progress.

“We have nowhere to go but up from where we were,’’ said Pepperdine’s first-year coach, DeLisha Milton-Jones, who takes over a team that went 7-23 overall and 5-13 in conference last season. “When there’s change, the newness and excitement, I’m going to use that to propel us out of the depths of the WCC.’’

The new coach will attempt to do that with two freshmen from Australia in forward Monique Andriuolo and guard Mia Satie and two senior transfers, forward Peyton Langston from Evansville (making her a Purple Ace, or at least a former Purple Ace) and forward Tylinn Carter from Cal State Bakersfield.

Of her transfers, Milton-Jones said, “They’ve been good additions. They matured us up. They bring that veteran presence that we needed.’’ And the Aussies are “terrific players with good skill sets. They have that international experience. They understand systems. They have a better sense than most freshmen.’’

At the top of the conference, Gonzaga finished 26-7 overall and 14-4 in conference in coach Lisa Fortier’s third season. She has perhaps the sweetest-shooting player in the conference, either gender, in junior forward Jill Barta, who swished 37 points against Saint Mary’s in last season’s conference championship game. That’s one shy of the conference record that dates to 1983.

Forward Zykera Rice and guards Laura Stockton and Emma Stach will form the core of a Gonzaga team that will attempt to do what all recent Gonzaga teams do, contend for championships.

“We always have high expectations,’’ Fortier said. “Where we are now is not where we’ll be in January or March. We’ll figure out where our strengths are going to lie. We do set our expectations very high.’’

Not that Rice is burdened by those expectations. The junior from Lakewood, WA., has almost a Zen approach to the coming season.

“I don’t think it’s a lot of pressure at all,’’ she said. “You just try to do the best your team can do. It’s a new season, a new team. You just try to do the best you can do.’’

If that’s a reasonable and intelligent approach to take, perhaps it’s all in her name. Asked about the name Zykera, Rice said, “My mom found it in one of the African name books. It means ‘intelligent.’ ‘’

At Saint Mary’s, coach Paul Thomas is coming off a 20-13 season (13-5 in conference) that saw the Gaels make the post-season WNIT for an eighth straight year. With guard Carly Turner out for the season with a knee injury, all-conference guard Stella Beck is the only senior on the roster. She’ll be supported by a pair of talented forwards in Sydney Raggio and Megan McKay.

“The outlook is very positive,’’ Thomas said. “We’re kind of in this funky spot because Stella is our lone senior. We haven’t been rebuilding in a long time. We haven’t had only one senior in a long time. Every season is different. When Stella finishes up, it will be difficult next year. Same culture, different personality. I think this team has an opportunity to be more consistent than the last couple of seasons.’’

While making the WNIT is a nice consolation prize for a season well done, Beck and her teammates want an invite to the NCAA Tournament, same as the men.

“That’s been the goal the last three years,’’ said Beck, who averaged 13.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game in 2016-17. “This is my last chance. We think about it every day. It’s long overdue. We need to take small steps to get to the tournament each and every day.’’

That’s exactly the approach BYU is taking in coach Jeff Judkins’ 17 th season in Provo. After making the NCAA Tournament three consecutive years from 2014-16, the Cougars finished 20-12 last season and went to the WNIT.

“We feel we have a good chance of winning the conference if we play well and stay healthy,’’ he said. “The conference is so competitive, not just one or two teams. If you’re not careful you can get beat. We lost some good players, but we have one of the best coming back.’’

That would be WCC Player of the Year Cassie (Broadhead) Devashrayee, who became the fourth straight Cougar to be so honored after Lexi Rydalch, Morgan Bailey and Jennifer Hamson. Decashrayee, married in May, averaged 17.8 points per game and shot .421 from 3-point range last season.

Much will be expected of Devashrayee this season considering the Cougars lost a prairie schooner full of talented players in Kalani Purcell, Makenzi Pulsipher and Kristine Nielson to graduation.

“Our expectations are to win the conference and go to the NCAAs,’’ Devashrayee said. “Last year was a disappointment. We’re not one of those big leagues that gets all the bids. That’s all right – no pressure. To us, it wasn’t a good year. It’s a driving force. We want to use it as fuel and turn some heads.’’

San Francisco’s second-year coach, Molly Goodenbour, guided the Dons to an 18-13 mark (11-7 in conference) in her first year. With the WCC’s leading scorer from last season, Rachel Howard, lost to graduation, she’ll rely heavily on senior forward Michaela Rakova, who Goodenbour expects to be a leading scorer and primary defender.

“We’re in a much better place to start the season in terms of mental toughness,’’ Goodenbour said. “It’s still going to be a challenging year for us. We’re a little behind in recruiting. We’ll be competitive.’’

Elsewhere around the WCC, San Diego welcomes back 2016 Defensive Player of the Year Maya Hood, who lost most of 2016-17 to a knee injury; LMU is eager to take the wraps off Cal transfer Gabby Green, an athletic 6-foot-2 guard; Santa Clara is one of those .500 teams (9-9 in conference) trying to make the move to the upper half of the conference; Pacific will count heavily on senior all-conference guard GeAnna Luaulu-Summers, who averaged 15.2 points in conference; and Portland coach Cheryl Sorenson will count on guard Julie Spencer and forward Ashley Gray to try to improve upon last season’s 4-14 conference finish.




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