Despite having a predominantly young team and losing three key players this year, the UCSB women’s basketball team is confident that its tradition of success will continue throughout the 2006-2007 season.

The Gauchos will start their regular season this Friday against Portland State with only 11 players on the active roster. After losing senior guard Erin O’Bryan and sophomore forward Shantel Thomas a month ago to personal decisions, the Gauchos have now lost junior forward Kat Suderman to injury. Suderman, who is recovering from knee surgery, will red shirt this season after the coaching staff decided not to rush her rehabilitation, which has taken longer than expected.

“Our depth isn’t what it has been in the past,” Head Coach Mark French said. “We’re going to have to have some of our younger players step up and play some more minutes. It’s the usual problems when you lack players. We need to be careful about our foul situation and we need to be in good shape.”

French said that at this point in the season, Santa Barbara does not have much information on Portland, but that it is not a concern for the coaching staff and that the more important goal for the team is focusing on the Gauchos and getting the women ready to make another run at the Big West Championship.

“This is the time of year [when] I think it is important to take care of yourself,” French said. “We won’t spend a whole lot of time preparing for Portland State, but mainly we will just be taking care of our own problems.”

One of the most important issues this season will be getting experience for the younger players who are now forced to step up with the losses to the UCSB roster. Right now, junior guard Jessica Wilson and junior center Jenna Green are shouldering the scoring load. The two most experienced players on the court combined for 40 points in the team’s exhibition game last week. However, every productive team needs to play well on both sides of the court, and that is where French believes the younger players will use their tenacity and athleticism to make a big difference.

“We’re not as talented offensively as we have been in the recent past, but the ability to play hard and do things like crash boards are talents, too,” French said. “We need to be a great defensive team, and that can happen because this is probably one of the quickest teams I’ve had in the past 15 years. Some of our losses in the offense will have to be made up in the defense.”

The biggest asset for Santa Barbara might also be its youth, as most of the players have something to prove. French said that the Gauchos’ inexperience might also mean that the younger players might overlook any trouble the team encounters.

“Part of the reason we are playing so hard is because we are young,” French said. “It’s a bit of a change for us to have an underdog attitude. The problems don’t seem to be as big of a problem as they might have been if we had noticed them more.”

Tip-off for the game against Portland State is this Friday at 2 p.m.