2005-06 Women's Basketball Preview
Oct. 20, 2005
No excuses will be made.
That is the kind of mentality head coach Ron Vlasin wants his team to have as the program begins the third year of a four-year transition to Division I. The team had close calls with good Division I teams last year, which were moral victories for the team, but Vlasin thinks it is time for Northern Colorado to stop accepting losses.
"Winning is a state of mind," Vlasin said, "If you're in the game, it all boils down to mental toughness. We're not willing to accept losses, and it doesn't matter who it is."
The 2005-06 season marks the fifth season Vlasin has been at the helm of Northern Colorado women's basketball, and this season's squad could be the best team he has coached since he has been at UNC. Even with a challenging schedule ahead, the Bears could turn some heads. It will be the last season for Northern Colorado as an independent as it enters the Big Sky Conference on July 1, 2006.
"I think we'll have the best team I've had since I've been here," Vlasin said. "We should be more experienced and ready for some top-notch competition."
The Bears return 13 players overall; nine of those 13 are upperclassmen. There were six different starting lineups, and nine returning players started at some point last season. To add to an already solid roster, there are three talented newcomers who Vlasin expects to contribute right away.
Northern Colorado will play seven games against teams that competed in last season's NCAA (Louisville and Maryland) or WNIT (Illinois, Marquette, Gonzaga and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi) tournaments. Although the schedule might seem daunting, Vlasin said the team is familiar with Division I athleticism and they should be able to stick with the teams.
"I think they have convinced themselves that they can play against those teams," he said. "Hopefully we can knock off at least a couple of those teams."
Northern Colorado is hoping to be competitive again this season against the likes of Maryland, Louisville, Marquette and Gonzaga. The Bears will square off against Maryland again on Feb. 26 in College Park, Md. The Bears took the nationally-ranked Terrapins down to the wire in last season's showdown as Northern Colorado led 75-72 with 4:20 remaining in the game before Maryland rallied to an 87-79 win.
Something that will be monumental to the team's success against the high level of competition will be its perimeter shooting. The Bears averaged 29 3-point attempts last season, and that is something Vlasin hopes to continue. At the same time, he is hoping the team will improve its 3-point shooting success by 5 percent, as it shot .296 from downtown last season. Vlasin said the team will consistently have four or five players on the floor at the same time that can shoot the perimeter shot.
"It's hard enough on the other team when there is just one player that can shoot the three," Vlasin said. "With four or five players on the floor at the same time that can shoot the three, we should be tough to guard."
Although the schedule could prove to be tough, Northern Colorado will benefit from an abundance of depth. That depth will help the Bears most when their eight visiting out-of-state opponents have to endure the Colorado altitude. It will also help that Northern Colorado plays 13 of its games at home, which includes a seven-game home stand that starts at the end of December and ends in the middle of January.
"We feel like if we play a great game, we have a shot at beating anybody on our schedule," Vlasin said.
One of the keys to the Bears' success this season will be the ability of the backcourt to distribute the ball and be consistent with the outside shot.
Junior Jena Fosdick proved to be a go-to scorer last year, and the Bears will count on her again this year. Fosdick, who earned honorable mention Division I All-Independent honors last season, scored a career-high 29 points on 10-of-17 shooting at nationally-ranked Maryland and was the second on the team in scoring with 8.2 points per game. Fosdick also led the team in 3-pointers made with 47. Fosdick also showed her defensive talent as she finished tied for the team lead in steals with 31.
Freshman newcomer Jabrenta Hubbard will give the returning guards a tough challenge for playing time. Possibly the most prized recruit in Northern Colorado women's basketball history, Hubbard was named first-team and MVP of her conference all four years of her high school career in Las Vegas. As a senior at Green Valley High School, she averaged 20.3 points and 3.5 assists per game. As a junior, she averaged 19.9 points, 4.5 assists and five steals per game. Her success in high school did not go unnoticed as Hubbard was ranked as the 38th best high school player in America by NCAAFullCourt.com in 2004. She was also mentioned as a top player in 2004 by Street & Smith's.
Junior Bailey Dillon is perhaps the best shooter on the team, and the Bears will count on her heavily for consistency in not only the perimeter game, but also at the free throw line. Dillon led the team from the stripe with a .944 free throw percentage, and she tied the Northern Colorado record for consecutive free throws made with 25. She was also perfect from the line in the last two minutes games. Dillon was a key part of ball rotation as she was third on the team in assists with 52.
Another important part of the Bears' outside shooting attack is junior Kendra Lambrecht. Lambrecht was third on the team in scoring with 6.8 points per game and led the team in scoring seven times. She was also second on the team in 3-pointers made with 43. Lambrecht, who was an honorable mention Division I All-Independent selection last season, consistently showed she is a force to be reckoned with from beyond the arc as she hit six 3-pointers on two different occasions.
Senior Molly McGrath will provide the Bears with the always important element of senior leadership. McGrath started out last season as an afterthought in the Northern Colorado rotation, but she soon played an important role on the team not only coming off the bench, but also as a starter, as she drew eight starting assignments. McGrath led the team in assists seven times and also showed her poise against a top-level Division I team in Colorado State as McGrath scored a career-high 11 points in Northern Colorado's close 62-52 loss to the Rams.
Freshman Whitley Cox is another prized recruit with an impressive prep resume that comes out of Las Vegas. Cox played on three state championship teams and led her team to a fourth straight championship game appearance after a 23 point, 14 rebound performance in the semifinal game. As a senior, she averaged 13.5 points and 8.9 rebounds per game while also shooting 60 percent from the field, including 43 percent from 3-point range.
Sophomore Amy Martinson will bring a much-needed defensive prowess to the team after seeing limited action last season. Martinson played a season-high 18 minutes against the Denver Pioneers and tied her career-high with four points.
Redshirt freshman Candace Buttars will also be able to contribute in the Bears' backcourt after redshirting last season.
The success of the frontcourt will hinge on its ability to play physical and grab the difficult rebounds.
"We want to hold our own with the bigger teams rebounding-wise," Vlasin said. "Last year we had a big rebounding deficit, so if we can stay even keel on that, then I think we have a shot at winning more games."
Senior Cindy McCarroll will return to the power forward rotation after finishing second on the team in rebounds with 103 and tied for first in steals with 31. McCarroll brings scoring versatility to the three or four spot as she can score inside or outside. She was fifth on the team in points scored last season with 138. McCarroll pitched in 14 points in a 75-57 win over Utah Valley State last season and also kept the Bears close against Maryland as she had 14 points in that game.
Junior Heather Barbour is expected to have a breakthrough season in the three or four position after undergoing lower leg surgery and being fully healthy for the first time since she started her collegiate career. The Bears are hoping she can return to her form of the 2003-04 season when she averaged 11.4 points per game. After playing 15 games before her season-ending injury, Barbour was fifth in points per game with 6.3. Barbour reached double figures in scoring in five games, with a season-high of 17 in the Bears' 59-52 against UTEP.
Junior Melanie Drangmeister is expected to add to the offensive firepower in the small forward spot as she was fourth on the team in 3-pointers made with 25 last season. Drangmeister sparked a second-half rally in the Bears' close loss to Maryland, when she hit four 3-pointers to finish with a season-high 14 points.
Freshman Alisa Christopherson, who rounds out the talented incoming freshman class, will be able to contribute right away as a forward. Christopherson was a McDonald's All-American nominee as a senior at Sentinel High School in Missoula, Mont. She also led her team to a third place finish in the state championship tournament during her junior year.
The battle for the anchor in the middle is crowded, but junior Danielle Hagen has the inside track to get the starting nod at center. In her two seasons at Northern Colorado, Hagen has been a familiar face in the starting lineup as she has started all 55 games of her collegiate career. The Bears don't have a lot of experienced size, so they will be counting on Hagen to lead the team in boards for the third consecutive season as she led the team in rebounds last year with 6.3 per game and the year before with 6.0 per game. Hagen was named to the Division I Independent All-Tournament Team last season after pitching in with seven points, 11 rebounds and two blocks against IPFW in the first round of the tournament.
Junior Nicole Ford made leaps and bounds in the second half of last season after starting out slow. Ford scored a career-high 19 points in the team's win over Adams State last season, and then she duplicated the performance against Utah Valley State later in the season. Ford could be counted on as the top reserve center, but she could also get a few starts in the middle as she started six games last season.
Another center to bring in to the mix is sophomore Dani Veal. Veal's potential is not yet known because she only played 17 games last season due to playing volleyball and encountering a hip injury that sidelined her for 11 games. Veal could prove to be an important post player for a team that is heavily slanted toward the perimeter. Veal had a career-high eight rebounds against Utah State last season and had a career-high six points against CU-Colorado Springs. Veal will not be available until the Dec. 2 contest against Nevada, but once she is ready, Vlasin thinks she could be an important tool to the team's success.
Sophomore Breanna Lien is the tallest player on the team at 6-feet-4 inches, which could help against larger Division I teams. Lien saw limited action last season, but did score a career-high eight points in seven minutes of play against Colorado College. Vlasin thinks Lien could become a contributor if she can continue to improve.
The Bears went 9-3 in its last 12 games last year and finished as runner up at the Division I Independent Championships in Orem, Utah. Look for Northern Colorado to carry that momentum and confidence into this season. With two seasons of Division I under their belt, the Bears have gotten used to what it takes to win at the Division I level.
"I think we have gotten used to the Division I athleticism," Vlasin said. "We played solid basketball the last 12 games last season, and that confidence will help us right off the bat."
With its up-tempo offense, Northern Colorado could be a wild card in Division I this year. The key to its season will be the ability to rebound consistently, play smart defense and be accurate on the 3-point shot.
"We have gotten to the point where we've realized that we have to play against the game," Vlasin said. "If we play to our strengths and minimize our weaknesses, we have a good shot to turn some heads."