Junior Lauren Lucchesi and the Pioneers will open the season at the CCAA/PacWest Challenge this weekend.
Entering its first season of eligibility for the CCAA Championships, the Cal State East Bay women's basketball team is setting its sights high for the 2011-12 campaign. The Pioneers kick off the season this weekend, traveling to San Rafael for the CCAA/PacWest Challenge. East Bay will meet Academy of Art on Friday before taking on the host Penguins on Saturday at the Conlan Center.
With a mix of experienced returners and talented newcomers, the Pioneers are set to make an impact in their second season under Head Coach Suzy Barcomb and Associate Head CoachHolli Howard-Carpenter. Cal State East Bay welcomes back seven players from its 2010-11 team that doubled its win total from the previous season and also welcomes six new faces to the mix.
“We are very excited to be able to compete for a possible CCAA tournament playoff spot this season,” Barcomb said. “We do have a sense of urgency but we also recognize that building a program takes time and we will have some bumps along the way. We have very specific goals as a team and the players are starting to recognize that each one must do their part as an individual in order for the team to be successful.”
A lineup that features seven under classmen is sure to go through some growing pains this year, but Barcomb's talented signing class looks set to bolster an already capable group that made progress with every game last season.
“The good thing about youth is that the team can grow together and there is a willingness and desire to improve,” Barcomb said. “We have a solid rookie class this season and our focus is getting the new faces to blend with the returners and find the right mix out on the floor.”
Among the new faces are freshmen Micah Walker, Carly Bettencourt, Hege Blikra and Nyaa Davis. Though Davis suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice and will spend the 2011-12 campaign on the bench, Blikra, Walker and Bettencourt look ready to make an immediate impact for the Pioneers.
A 5-9 wing out of Reno, Walker is a versatile player who earned all-state honors as a prep and can play a variety of positions, says Barcomb, “Micah has the ability to shoot the three-ball, take it off the bounce or go get an offensive board. She always seems to be in a good mood and she has natural leadership abilities”
Meanwhile, Barcomb says Bettencourt, a highly-decorated guard out of El Dorado Hills, has the skills and attitude to run the offense at point guard.
“Carly comes from a winning program and brings that attitude out onto the floor,” Barcomb said “Carly can play at the point or the two and can push the tempo. Her growth and improvement are critical in order for our program to become more successful.
Blikra joins the Pioneers from Norway and brings serious basketball knowledge and the attitude to set the tone for the team on the court. Barcomb said she sees a lot of potential in the freshman guard, “She has a great court sense and a very high basketball IQ. We are really excited about her abilities to direct the offense and get this team on the same page and her work ethic is surpassed by none on the court.”
Joining Blikra, Walker and Bettencourt as newcomers are junior Taylor Smith and senior Ikay Mwanangele. A transfer from Sacramento, Barcomb sees Smith becoming a valuable asset off the bench, particularly on defense, this season.
Mwanangele, a 6-1 forward and center from Switzerland, could make her presence felt in the post for East Bay, says Barcomb, “She will provide us with some much needed height. She improves on a daily basis and we hope this continues so that she can really have an impact by the time the CCAA season rolls around.”
Bringing quality experience to the Pioneer lineup are seven returners, four of whom have already made the rounds through two CCAA seasons. Senior Frieda Li and juniors Nia Bravo,Lauren Lucchesi and Marlene MacMillan will open their third season competing against Division II competition, while sophomore Cassie Coble, Sarah Finlay and Brianna Terrance return after getting a taste of the CCAA last year. According to Barcomb, all of the returners have benefited from tough summer and fall workouts and are ready to help the program continue to build this year.
In the post, the Pioneers will look to MacMillan, who led the team and averaged nearly 10 boards a game, and Coble, who has increased her strength in the off-season.
“Cassie competes day in and day out and wants to help us move this program in the right direction,” Barcomb said. “She is willing to play any role we need and works to improve, while Marlene continues her steady growth as a scorer and leader. She can rebound with the best of the CCAA, but we will need her to step up her game defensively and be able to score consistently this season.”
Lucchesi, who struggled with injuries last season after collecting 2010 CCAA Freshman of the Year honors but led the team with 7.7 points per game and her 34 percent shooting from three-point range in 2010-11, Terrance, who is working to develop her game as a forward, will solidify the East Bay front court.
“Lauren's dedication to her summer workouts has allowed her to compete at a higher level this fall, we are hopeful she will continue with this newfound energy and desire to really have an impact,” Barcomb said. “Brianna will be playing out of position this year, guarding post players and it will be a challenge but she seems committed to it and has taken on that responsibility.”
In the backcourt and on the wing, East Bay will look to Li, Finlay and Bravo to complement the addition of Walker and Bettencourt. Last season, Finlay finished the season second in scoring, averaging 6.7 points per game and will look to improve both on and off the ball during the 2011-12 campaign.
“Sarah's a good jump shooter, but has untapped potential,” Barcomb said. “She had some pretty amazing games last season in scoring, but we need her to be more consistent with her ball-handling and scoring.”
Both Bravo and Li helped to set the ton off the bench for the Pioneers last year, making appearances in almost every game. Bravo, who suffered an ankle injury both last season and again this summer, is looking to continue rebounding from the injury, says Barcomb. Meanwhile, Li will look to continue to be a key player off the bench.
“We have asked Frieda to focus on three key phases of her game and she has committed to doing just that,” Barcomb said.
Though the group Barcomb and Howard-Carpenter have put together is full of talent, they face another tough schedule in 2011-12. After opening the season against a pair of Pac West schools, East Bay will travel to Seattle next weekend for the Seattle Pacific Sodexo Tip-Off Classic, where it will meet two Great Northwest Athletic Conference teams in Seattle Pacific, who finished third in the GNAC and earned and NCAA Tournament berth last year, and Central Washington.
Following two weeks on the road and Thanksgiving, The Pioneers will then open the CCAA campaign against Sonoma State and Humboldt State, playing host to the Seawolves on Dec. 2 in their home opener. The CCAA slate will feature one NCAA Division II Elite Eight team in Cal Poly Pomona and another two NCAA Tournament squads in Cal State Monterey Bay and Cal State San Bernardino. East Bay will also meet two teams ranked in the WBCA Division II Pre-Season Top 25 – No. 13 UC San Diego and No. 19 Cal Poly Pomona.
If all goes as planned, the Pioneers will reach their goal of earning one of the eight spots in the 2012 CCAA Tournament, to be held at UC San Diego's RIMAC Arena, Mar. 2-3, 2012.
“Both Holli and I believe this team will compete on a higher level this season and we hope that all of the hard work will pay off for the team,” Barcomb said. “There is never an easy game in the CCAA and we want to take the next step in our level of play and stay focused on the end result. We are in phase two of building this program. We believe we have some key pieces in place and are anxious to get the season underway.”
The season will get started on Friday night, when the Pioneers and Urban Knights tip-off at 1 p.m. in San Rafael. Academy of Art returns six players from its 2010-11 team that went 11-14 overall, including a 66-56 victory over East Bay on Dec. 12, 2010.
Saturday, the Pioneers will take on the hosts at 5 p.m. Dominican went 8-18 last season to finish fifth in the PacWest Conference. Last season, the Penguins posted a seven-point victory over East Bay in the first game of the CCAA/PacWest Challenge in Arcata on Dec. 11, 2010.