Women’s hoopers ready to storm the court

Winter in Portland brings not only clouds and rain, but basketball season. A glorious time of year for fans of the game, this year will feature an intriguing and should-be exciting team to watch in Portland State’s women’s basketball team.

We will call this team reloading, not rebuilding. They return their leading scorer alongside seven other letter winners from last year. They welcome six new players to the squad which was part of head coach Sherri Murrell’s uncertainty early on.

“Coming into this season with so many new players, with graduation, I didn’t know what to expect,” Murrell said. “I thought we’d have to do a lot of teaching from ground zero. But I’ve been very pleasantly surprised with how quickly everybody’s coming along and getting it. We have some really mature players on our team that are new and I think they’re all meshing pretty good.”

One newcomer expected to make a difference is center Alicia Carline. The 6-foot 3-inch junior hails from Feilding, New Zealand and transferred from Gillete College in Wyoming where she averaged 14.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 2.0 steals while shooting .540 from the floor and .780 from the free-throw line.

“She’s a true back-to-basket player,” Murrell said. “She just has the old school moves: good at the block, very fundamental, she bangs, she’s not afraid of contact. She just has a beautiful touch around the basket. Defensively, she’s a shot blocker, she really alters people’s shots.”

Last year PSU’s front court struggled with injuries. Often filling in at center was forward Mikaela Rivard, a 5-foot 11-inch senior who started 12 games in the 2013–14 season averaging 7.2 points and 2.9 rebounds. PSU went 8–21 (6–14 in conference) in the previous season, missing the Big Sky tournament.

This year PSU women’s basketball was ranked No. 11 in the Big Sky preseason rankings from both the coaches and media polls. The only team behind them is Weber State, who won three conference games last year. Coach Murrell is not overly concerned with where her team is ranked before they have played a game.

“Predictions are predictions,” Murrell said. “It’s really about the results of the year. I’ve been in situations here at [PSU] where they pick us first and we came in fifth or sixth. Then I’ve been here where we were picked fifth or sixth and we go up first. You never know. I expected people to not rank us high because we lost so many kids, and they don’t know our new players.”

Another new face to keep an eye on is forward Cici West. West averaged 12 points per game as a high school senior at Holy Names Academy in Seattle, Washington.

“Probably the most athletic and most explosive player on our team,” Murrell said. “And physical. She’s going to do some really good things. And rebounding, she loves rebounding.”

The two front-court additions could be just what PSU needs. Last year they were next to the bottom in Big Sky rebounding, getting out-boarded by 3.6 rebounds per game.

Other new faces to PSU basketball are sophomore forward Danah Haley, freshmen point guard Nele Aha, and center Shelby Sanders. Another addition, sophomore point guard Montana Walters, will sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules. Previously, Walters started 14 games for Santa Clara University where she averaged 6.5 points, 2 rebounds, and a team-leading 3.1 assists per game.

Junior guard Emily Easom heads up the returning players. She led the team in points (12.4) and hustle last season as well as being one of the best 3-point shooters in the Big Sky, tossing in 54 on .338 shooting. Joining her are sophomores Yaremi Mejia and Lauren Holt, and seniors Lariel Powell, Ani Avanessian and Rivard. Also on the squad is center Cara Olden, a former PSU volleyball player who joined the basketball team last season.

The Lady Viks begin pre-conference play in early November and the first conference game will be a road matchup against Southern Utah on Jan. 1. Fans of in-state action can circle Nov. 5 for a game against the University of Oregon Ducks in Eugene and Dec. 12 for the University of Portland Pilots playing at the Peter W. Stott Center.

The all-time series with the Pilots is close, PSU edging them out 25–23 after a win last season. Dating back to 1974 the Ducks have had a clear edge over PSU, winning 24 of the 34 games played between the two. But this is a game Murrell looks forward to and knows her team can win. She’s done it before.

“Oregon’s always a big game. I love playing Oregon every year. Here we are on a really good stage against a Pac-12 team. Two years ago we beat them; that just put us on the map,” Murrell said.

Getting to the Big Sky tournament would be a real accomplishment for this team. This is Murrell’s seventh year as head coach, her team made the tournament four straight years before missing it the last two. Regardless of how her team is perceived now, what they do going forward, how they play once a referee tosses that first jump ball, and how many Ws are in that left column under record will be a real measurement of PSU’s basketball team.

“If you think we’re 11th, we have a lot of proving to do, so I don’t mind that challenge for these young ladies. I love anytime we can go from the underdog position,” Murrell said.

Last week coach Murrell debuted the Sherri Murrell Basketball Show on Blog Talk Radio. It will air on Tuesday nights and can be accessed at www.blogtalkradio.com/sherrimurrellshow.