After giving a solid conference performance last season, the Davis women’s basketball team is looking to perfect its winning ways in the Big West Conference before becoming an official member for the 2007-2008 season.

“It was our first year learning what it took to be successful in league. We were competitive last year, but we want to take it to the next step,” Head Coach Sandy Simpson said.

Last season, the Aggies (6-9 overall) posted a 16-12 overall record, going 11-5 against Big West teams and every team in the conference at least once. The finish would have given the Aggies a share of the Big West regular season title and a #3 seed in the Big West Conference Tournament – had they been eligible. Davis is in its provisional fourth and final year of making the transition from Division II to Division I.

“They are a solid team that runs the Princeton offense beautifully,” Long Beach State Head Coach Mary Hegarty said. “They are a great fit in our conference, and they do a good job and recruit well.”

As senior forward Ellen Porshneva has been forced to redshirt this year as a result of a preseason knee injury sustained during practice, the Aggies have no returning starters, giving them a much less experienced team than that of last season. Those returning, however, did see playing time last year and Simpson is confident in their abilities.

“We have a system-oriented program: constant motion. We have a good, young group, but we are young,” Simpson said. “We’re much quicker than we would have guessed. We’re younger, but a lot more athletic overall.”

Simpson will look to three players to fill the guard positions with sophomore Kirsten Commins, sophomore Genevieve Costello and senior Lindsey Jones – all of whom played reserve roles last season. Jones, though she accumulated just 322 minutes prior to her senior campaign, is one of only three playing seniors and can offer experience and leadership to help her younger teammates.
“It’s crucial to set a final example, lead the rest of the team to what the future should look like,” Jones said. “This year is a big opportunity to prove ourselves in the Big West.”
Davis returns three letter-winners at the wing position in seniors Heather Bates and Laura Thomas and sophomore Haylee Donaghe. Bates leads Davis with 174 points and has amassed 103 rebounds, 68 of which came on the defensive end. Thomas, who did not see much playing time last season, rains treys for the Aggies, shooting .398 and knocking in 33 three-pointers. Donaghe is second on the team with 155 points and first with 31 steals, and is very strong from the charity stripe.
In contrast, Davis will be lacking experience in the post, for it will be starting all newcomers in that corner of the court. The Aggies have been consistently starting Bates, Donaghe, Thomas, Costello and Commins, while distributing time off the bench to freshman guard Anna Harp, freshman forward Ashley Curry and Jones.
Davis began its season with a three-game losing streak – two of which were by margins of five points or less – until a 74-40 trouncing of San Francisco State on Nov. 20 put an end to the skid. The Aggies posted a 59-55 victory over nearby rival Sacramento State in the Causeway Classic with a season-high 14 points from Bates.
Davis started its conference play at Long Beach State on Dec. 28 with a 63-47 loss to the 49ers, despite 15 points from Donaghe. In Irvine, the Aggies pulled out their first Big West win over the Anteaters, despite a comeback by Irvine late in the second half.
The Aggies took a small time-out from Big West play on Jan. 5 against South Dakota State (11-4). Davis lost 78-61 to the Jackrabbits – who have beaten the likes of teams such as USC (9-7). Part of the Aggies’ loss can be attributed to its first 11 missed shots of the game, causing Davis maintain its zero up on the board for the first eight minutes of the game. In the second half, victory was in reach of the Aggies’ hands, as they tailed the contest by just one three-pointer – until South Dakota went on a 12-2 run to bring the score out to 66-53 with only 5:38 left in the game.

Tomorrow the Aggies will continue a full Big West Conference schedule for the remainder of the 2006-07 season, which will no doubt round out their preparation for Division I basketball.

“Every game, we had something to prove last year,” Jones said. “Last year was a transition year. Teams will have to be prepared for us; they won’t let us cruise through.”

After Riverside (9-7 overall, 3-1 in the Big West) ended Santa Barbara’s (7-8, 3-1 Big West) reign as tournament champion with a stunning victory over the Gauchos last season, the Big West Conference has opened up for all teams, something that excites Simpson, as the Aggies become full-fledged conference members.

“I think it’s a much healthier conference – no one’s just playing for second place anymore. There are more good teams, I don’t know that there’s one great team,” Simpson said. “You’ve got to win conference games – that’s the only thing that matters.”

Look for the Aggies to put their final stamp on the Big West before returning as real competitors for the crown next season.