Usually a basketball team that returns just three players is going to be hurting for experience. That isn’t the case with the UAA women’s basketball team, who welcome nine new players into the fold this year.
Seawolf head coach Jody Hensen and her staff spent countless hours sending letters and working the phones to bring in a recruiting class that features three Division I transfers and a junior college All-American.
But while Hensen is proud of her staff’s haul, she knows that nine new players mean a period of adjustment.
“I feel like all of the players we signed are players that can make an immediate impact,” Hensen said. “But anytime you bring in a class as large as we did it takes time to develop chemistry and camaraderie.”
Hensen has the luxury of a strong returner in senior forward Amber Nasby to help lead the way for the newcomers. The 5-11 Nasby upped her numbers last year to 11.4 points and 6.8 rebounds a game and Hensen expects more of the same this season.
“There’s no doubt we have high expectations for Amber,” Hensen said.
“Right off the bat people are going to look at her numbers but what she brings that is more important than her numbers is her level of competitiveness and desire to win,” Hensen said. “She’s extremely tough and nothing fazes her.”
Beason has excellent range on her shot but will make the defense pay for overplaying her shot, something her new teammates have quickly taken notice of.
“Stevie is an excellent shooter. In practice, she hits almost all of her threes,” Nasby said. “But she can attack the hoop, too.”
“There’s no one way to guard her,” Hensen added.
Joining Beason on the perimeter will be DI transfer Cassie Bro, who gives UAA another sharpshooter on the wing. Bro spent a season at Idaho State, where she hit nearly 40 percent of her three-pointers.
Defenses will have a harder time playing tight on UAA’s guards thanks to two DI transfers in the paint.
Former East High star Tenecia Macon returns to Anchorage after a season at San Jose State. The 6-1 forward will play for short periods due to a recurring health problem but her effort and skill make it worthwhile for the Seawolves.
“She’s a fighter. There isn’t a time she’s not working hard,” Hensen said. “She runs the floor probably better than anyone in the conference and has great hands.”
Playing alongside Macon will be former Grace Christian star Taylor Long, who spent two seasons at Mount St. Mary’s before returning home last year to finish school. Long joined the intramural basketball league and word got out to Hensen and her staff that a great prospect had pretty much fallen into their laps.
“We were very lucky to get a player like Taylor (without the recruiting effort),” Hensen said. “The biggest thing we’re working on with her is being more aggressive. If she gets a touch in the post, we want her to attack the basket.”
Getting the ball to all of UAA’s scoring options will fall into the hands of a trio of point guards. Senior Jessi Reilly will offer leadership and tough-nosed, on-the-ball defense. Laura Gyllenberg, a 5-4 freshman, is an even-keel ball handler who plays above her age, Hensen said. But the likely starter at point is junior college transfer Christa Wilson. Wilson, who played with Macon at East, spent last season at Yakima Valley Community College in Washington. The 5-8 playmaker averaged 4.3 assists and led her team to a 23-8 record.
Hensen couldn’t be happier about having a logjam in the backcourt.
“Anytime you have strong leadership and skills in the backcourt your team is going to run smoother,” she said.
To start the season, the Seawolves are an unknown commodity to their opponents, which was reflected when the Great Northwest Athletic Conference coaches’ poll came out. The opposing coaches picked UAA to finish sixth but Hensen and the Seawolves aren’t taking it to heart.
“We’re not going to focus on the polls,” the second-year coach said. “Whether we were picked first or last, we’re going to do all our talking with our play.”
2004-05 Great Northwest Athletic Conference
Women’s Basketball Preseason Coaches Poll 2003-04