After finishing dead last in the Big West standings last season, the Pacific women’s basketball team decided to go for the overhaul and hire a completely new coaching staff. Head Coach Lynne Roberts, fresh off of a short coaching stint at Chico State, will take the helm for the Tigers, along with four other coaches from Chico, including assistant coach Alisha Valavanis.
“From the results, they have responded well [to the coaching change],” UCSB Head Coach Mark French said. “[Roberts] has a reputation for being energetic, and a real go-getter. She’s gotten the girls to play energetically and enthusiastically, and that is always a good start.”
Roberts, who is fresh off leading Chico State to a NCAA Division II Final Four appearance and receiving a second consecutive California Collegiate Athletic Association Coach of the Year honor, will take over the position once held by Karen Weitz.
“It’s a very big change, very positive,” senior guard Jerise Freeman, a transfer from Seward County Community College in Kansas, said. “We needed it.”
The Tigers (7-9 overall, 1-2 in the Big West) finished the 2005-2006 season with a 3-11 Big West record and 6-22 overall record. After their season ended at the Big West tournament by way of a 94-67 first round loss to the Cal Poly Mustangs (5-10, 1-3 Big West), the Tigers then lost four seniors to graduation, including their top player, Carolina Ruiz, who earned a First Team All-Conference selection in her senior year.
This year is a different story. The Tigers have only four upperclassmen that will be expected to lead the rest of the team, which includes four true freshmen.
“We’re very young, all the way around, not very experienced.” Roberts said. “There will be obvious effects of that. But on the positive side, there is no baggage, no fear of failure. We will learn as we go. They are not learning on the bench, they are learning as they do.”
Pacific’s Big West conference opponents also recognize the abundant youth on the Tigers’ roster and the potential it has to determine the outcome of future games.
“Youth always affects things,” French said. “Sometimes it’s positive. The players have no past history. But youth also leads to inexperience. It can go either way as the season goes on. It’s hard to say now. ”
Pacific understands that the preseason is a time in which a team can look for potential hitches in its plans and gain more collegiate playing experience for the younger players. While playing a preseason schedule that featured teams such as Oklahoma State and Northern Arizona, the Tigers played to a 6-7 preseason record before opening Big West conference play.
In addition to the four freshmen gaining experience in collegiate ball, many of the other Tigers decided to step out and prove themselves as leaders.
Karen Dawkins, a senior guard, leads the team with an average of 13.9 points per game, which is good for sixth in the Big West. Last season, Dawkins led the team in rebounds and this year is second on the team with an average of 8.2 rebounds per game, good for fourth in the Big West. Freshman guard Jake Kelly is proving her power and ranking second on the team, averaging 12.5 points per game, while junior guard Kelsey Lavender is third on the team with an average 9.4 points per game.
Sophomore forward Whitney Price leads the Tigers under the boards with an average of 8.7 rebounds per game, which places her third in the Big West.
After finishing dead last in the 2005-2006 season, and losing their first conference game to Cal State Northridge, the Tigers have a long road ahead of them, and the mindset that every game is a must-win.
“Where we’re at, every single team is the team to beat,” Roberts said. “We have to be on our game. We are looking forward to conference play, it’s very competitive.”
So far in this young season, Pacific ranks in the bottom half of the Big West Conference at sixth place. The Tigers kicked off conference play Dec. 30 at Northridge (5-10, 2-1 Big West), but fell to the third-place team 72-50. Pacific’s youth stung the team in the second half of the game, as the squad allowed the Matadors to blow away what used to be a one-point half time lead.
On Jan. 4 the youthful squad’s woes carried on to its conference home opener when the Tigers fell 58-50 to Riverside (9-7, 3-1 Big West), which never really seemed to dominate the game and demonstrate why it is the conference favorite. Despite Freeman’s team-leading 11 points on the night, Pacific could not muster enough of an attack to pull out in front for good.
A few players on the team also started this season with the hopes of redemption on the basketball court.
“I’m looking forward to playing Long Beach,” Freeman said. “In the games we played with them in the past, we could have done better. I just want to see what we could have done.”
With the youth dominating the team and the leadership of an entirely new coaching staff, the Tigers are in an unenviable position of battling from the bottom, but with a fairly respectable preseason finish at 6-9, the Tigers may have the experience necessary.