After years of darkness clouding the Big Sky Conference, the Portland State women’s basketball team could be seeing some sunshine on their horizon. Second-year head coach Charity Elliott is looking forward to a new season, new faces and a new start to the 2006 Vikings basketball team.
After a very disappointing 2005 campaign Elliott hopes to bounce back with a very young and exuberant team. Returning only three starters from last year and bolstering a dismal record of 3-23, Elliott hopes that this year will be different.
“We are still in our second year of trying to change the culture of our program which I think has come a long way,” Elliott said. “Believe it or not we’ve made a lot of progress last year even though it doesn’t seem like it in the win-loss column.”
A year of cleaning house has allowed Elliott to design a team that will be very fast rather then a powerhouse. After a very successful off-season of recruiting, including three high school standouts and a Pac-10 transfer, gives Portland State a glimmer of hope. However disappointing injuries to veteran centers Monica Uhrig and Marci Garski has left Elliot with very few big bodies. Uhrig is out for the season recovering from a knee injury and Garski will be returning in a month from an ankle injury.
Despite the loss of these players Elliott thinks that Brianna Thompson can step up and become the starting center.
“Brianna Thompson is doing an unbelievable job right now, she came back in shape and worked hard all summer,” Elliott said. “She’s dominating right now in our post position.”
Elliott elected to drop some veteran players and add some freshman that could be molded into her team for the future. To make up for their lack of size, Elliott will push her team to be the fastest, best-conditioned team on the floor. These changes will make teams play at a pace set by the Vikings. Lots of fast breaking, full court pressing, trapping and forcing turnovers should make for a scrappy women’s basketball team.
“I’m excited about this team, everyday they’re here to learn, they’re here to get better, they’re soaking it all up, and they’re a very unselfish group,” Elliot said.
Last years lone bright spot, junior guard Heather Arns, lead the team in almost every category in 2004. She was the Big Sky overall leader in steals and ranked sixth in scoring. Elliott is very pleased with her leader’s attitude in the off-season.
“Nobody works harder then Heather, so she can back up what she says, and that’s what you need out of a leader,” Elliott elated about her superstar.
Elliott also has been impressed with her other returning starters, Sharon Wahinekapu and Delaney Conway. Wahinekapu the only senior on the team will probably start at point guard. Conway with her ability to take open shots and score in the paint will be used as a utility player, putting her all over the court.
It’s a very daunting undertaking to turn a program around. However, Elliott is very confident and excited with the task at hand. She expects this team to make it to the conference tournament in the coming years. In preparation she has chosen an extremely difficult schedule to show her players the level of competition that she expects to face in a tournament. The Vikings will be playing Arkansas, Oregon State and Gonzaga in the coming months.
Not since 1998 have the women’s basketball team had a winning season, a playoff draught that won’t be quenched this year, but has definite possibility down the road. Hopefully the young hopefuls will blossom into stars and have some more success then last years group.
“You have to have the foundation in place before you can actually see results. Like a building you don’t see any of the foundation that happens, you just see the floors going up. So right now we are working on our foundation,” Elliott said.