Boise State picked by coaches and media to three-peat.
The Boise State women’s basketball program has experienced a revival over the last three years since the arrival of head coach Gordy Presnell and his staff in 2005. They inherited a program that had not experienced a winning season and struggled to record double figure wins in the previous seven seasons.
Times have changed in Bronco Nation. In three years, Boise State has turned into one of the perennial powers in the Western Athletic Conference recording back-to-back 20-win seasons, regular season titles, and postseason appearances, which are all program firsts. They have gone 48-17 over the last two years setting a new mark for the best two-season record in school history and the best mark in the WAC during that time span.
With success comes expectations and the 2008-09 Broncos return the bulk of last year’s championship squad and are favored to win their third consecutive regular season WAC crown, per vote of the conference’s coaches and media. Senior Tasha Harris was named the media’s preseason player of the year, as well as named to both the coaches and media preseason All-WAC teams.
Challenges facing the Broncos...
However, with the dawn of a new campaign there are always challenges that must be overcome before the dream of a third title can be reached. Boise State must replace three key impact players, all starters, from the 2007-08 season. Two seniors who were also three-year starters, Jackie Lee and Amanda Stewart, are key losses from last season’s roster.
Lee was a vital cog in the success the Broncos have experienced over the last three seasons averaging 8.3 points and 4.9 rebounds per game throughout her career. Stewart did not possess the stats that Lee had but her leadership and strength defensively down low will be missed.
Boise State’s third loss is a temporary one in that two-time All-WAC honoree Jessica Thompson, a senior this season, will sit out the campaign as a redshirt while recovering from off-season surgery. She is ranked seventh all-time in scoring with 1,209 career points. That point production will need to be picked up by someone else this year.
Lee and Thompson will be hard to replace as the duo was extremely dynamic on the floor and gave the team so much. Stewart went down with an injury in January last year, so the transition to replace her actually began last winter.
The cupboard is not bare...
Even with the loss of those three players, the cupboard in not bare for the Broncos who return seven veterans who all played a role in last season’s championship run. Add to that a group five redshirts and two true freshmen and this could very well be the most talented and athletic group ever to wear the blue and orange.
Leading the group are four experienced seniors and two juniors. Tasha Harris returns for her fourth season as the starter at the point guard position where she will direct the Broncos while on the floor. The native of Longmont, Colo., is a fifth-year senior and a 2008 All-WAC first team honoree. She has started every game of her career, 94, and is ranked sixth all-time in career points at Boise State with 1,214.
Joining Harris as the only returning starter from 2007-08 is classmate Jenna Galassi. The senior from Yorba Linda, Calif., moved into the starting role at power forward last season following the fifth game. She finished the year ranked fourth on the team in scoring at 7.5 points per game. A versatile athlete, Galassi has played at every position on the floor at some point during her career. However, this year she is the leading candidate to move into Lee’s old role as the starting small forward.
Also returning are senior guards Jamia Malone and Brittany Moore. They each played a major factor in last season’s campaign as two of the four true guards on the roster. Both were junior college All-Americans before transferring to Boise State last year. They will be in the battle to replace Thompson as the starting shooting guard.
The other three returning veterans from last year are junior center Ja'Lara Walker, and sophomore forwards Melissa Rima and Sierra Moeller. All three saw quality time and impacted the Broncos’ 2007-08 season.
Walker moved into the starting position at center following Stewart’s injury. She blossomed into the role late in the season where she recorded the school’s third 20/20 game in history with 21 points and a school-record 23 rebounds at home against San Jose State. The 6-4 athletic Walker is the favorite to start at center in 2008-09.
Rima and Moeller will figure into the battle for playing time at the two forward positions this year. The duo was thrown into the fire as true freshmen last season due to a lack of depth and both performed admirably in their roles. Nothing less will be expected from the two for the new campaign.
The following is a position by position break down for 2008-09 which includes where the five redshirts and two true freshmen fit into the grand scheme for the upcoming campaign.
Boise State has been blessed with solid guard play over the years, which has been the program’s strength. This year will be no different as they are expected to be a strong pillar in this year’s success. This season’s roster includes five players, excluding Thompson, that are true guards. The group is a mix of experience and youthful talent, made up of three seniors and two true freshmen.
Leading the group is senior Tasha Harris entering her fourth year as a starter at the point guard position. The senior is expected to be the strength of the back court this season where she was picked as the WAC’s preseason player of the year by the league’s media. The sixth ranked scorer at Boise State all-time had a monster year as a junior when she recorded a league-best 529 points to average a WAC-high 16.5 points per game. She was also ranked in the top 10 of six conference statistical categories last season including second in assists with 113 (3.5 apg), fourth in 3-point percentage at 36.6 pct., and eighth in steals with 62 (1.9 spg).
The other four guards will battle it out for the open starting role at shooting guard, as well as, see time at the point. Experience would give the edge to seniors Jamia Malone and Brittany Moore. Both were potent offensive threats in junior college. They started slow last year with the Broncos but came on as the season progressed.
Malone finished the year fifth on the team in scoring with 206 points for 6.4 per game average. She shot 34.7 percent from the field with 45 of her 69 made field goals ccoming from behind the 3-point arc. Malone finished the year ranked ninth in the league for 3-pointers made.
Brittany Moore is a feisty player who leaves it all out on the floor. Point production was down as a junior for the Broncos with 99 on the campaign, but she was the spark that came in off the bench to lift the team with her energy and leadership.
Talent may give the two freshmen the edge in the battle for the starting position who are the last two guards on the roster who will figure into the lineup. Courtney VanBrocklin and Heather Pilcher are extremely athletic and talented, both will push the veterans. Regardless of what happens in the competition to start, they will see quality playing time. VanBrocklin led the state of Washington in scoring last year, while Pilcher, in addition to being a scorer, is potentially the best overall athlete to arrive on campus to play for the Broncos in some time.
Overall, the two guard positions should be solid again in 2008-09. There is more depth and talent in the group than the team has had in a while. All five could start and all will see quality time for Boise State during the campaign.
There are nine forwards on this year’s roster battling for two starting positions. This is by far the most talented set of forwards the program has had since Presnell’s arrival. For the first time in several years there will be quality depth coming in off the bench at both positions.
The small forward will see Jenna Galassi, Melissa Rima, Rebecca Kepilino and Stacie Gross battle it out for the starting role.
Galassi was the started at power forward last year when Kepilino went down with an injury. She is the favorite to start at the small forward this season. Last year Galassi averaged 10.2 points and 4.4 boards per game during league games to rank fourth in scoring and third in rebounding. As a senior, she has three years of experience and maturity on her side in the competition to start at the wing this November.
Rebecca Kepilino would be a strong contender for the starting role at small forward if fully healthy. Unfortunately, the redshirt junior is still recovering from her injury and could be better suited for a reserve role early on in 2008-09. Kepilino as an underclassman was one of the better rebounders on the team averaging 5.8 rebounds per game to go with 6.9 points. Once healthy she will fit into the race at small forward.
Melissa Rima has one year under her belt giving her the confidence to push for quality time at the two forward positions this season. She will play more of a role initially as a small forward where she will give Galassi competition to start. Last year Rima averaged 2.6 points and 2.8 rebounds in 12.5 minutes per game.
Stacie Gross was a redshirt last year while recovering from an injury suffered during her final high school season. In 2008-09 she will challenge the other three for playing time, but it may take awhile for her to adjust to the pace of the collegiate game in the beginning. Look for her to play more of a reserve role to start the campaign.
The power forward position will have a new look in 2008-09. This is where the majority of last year’s redshirts fit into the picture for Boise State. Battling it out for the starting role will be four sophomores in Janie Bos, Marisa Stotler, Ainsleigh Sanders, and the only one of the group to play last year in Sierra Moeller. All four are physically gifted athletes and will be a force down low for the Broncos.
Entering the season opener the starting role was still up in the air. Janie Bos a transfer from Portland State has looked strong in preseason games and scrimmages and will definitely figure into the game plan at either power forward or even the center position. During her one year at PSU, Bos averaged 11.5 points and 7.0 rebounds per game during Big Sky Conference play.
Marisa Stotler will battle head to head with Bos for the starter’s role for the season opener. The transfer from Washington State has the size and strength to push anyone around in the post. She led WSU in scoring as a freshman in 2006-07 at 10.4 points per game to go with 5.1 rebounds and 1.8 steals. She was also an honorable mention Pac-10 All-Freshman team honoree.
Sierra Moeller is the only one of the four who has actually played for Boise State as the other three sat out last year. Moeller will push both Bos and Stotler not only for the starting spot but for quality playing time as well. In 2007-08 she averaged 3.8 points and 3.7 rebounds in 13.9 minutes per game.
Ainsleigh Sanders is another tall, physical player that will be an impact in the post for Boise State. However, the Australian will not be eligible to play until the 13th game of the season due to NCAA regulations. Once she is cleared to play she could fill in at both the power forward and center positions.
The forward positions overall are loaded with talented and depth for the first time in several years. They could end up being as influential on the team’s overall success as the guards are expected to be. The group will definitely be a force for Boise State and pose a major challenge to the opposition.
The center position may seem light in depth, but that is a bit misleading. Junior Ja'Lara Walker returns as the favorite to start at center this year. However, she will have to fight off the group of power forwards who are capable of playing at center and could slip into the starting role if Walker is not careful.
Walker is the favorite and has experience playing the position here at Boise State. She was impressive last February when she was moved into the starting role when Stewart went down with injury. Even though she struggled early on in her career fitting into the system, Walker appeared to have found her way down the stretch last season when she recorded three double-doubles and had six games in double-figure scoring, including a 21 point and 23 rebound game against San Jose State. She worked hard over the summer and seems ready to take over the role permanently. At 6-4 she possesses the height and body to dominate the post against anyone.
If Walker struggles, look to see Janie Bos and Marisa Stotler drift into the position, as well as, Ainsleigh Sanders when she becomes eligible. All three are solid players and could make an impact in center or at power forward.
This year’s Boise State team is one of the most talented squads the program has had in sometime. There are numbers and size at every position giving the team depth and the ability to play physical with anyone on their schedule. Toughness is something they will need, as two-time defending WAC champions they will get everyone’s best shot, especially once conference play rolls around in early January. However, the squad has the tools to perform as expected and repeat as league champions.