Women's basketball preview
Itâ€TMs going to get a little lonely on the bench for new University of Colorado at Colorado Springs womenâ€TMs basketball coach Jessika Stratton.
The Baylor graduate expected to begin her inaugural season with 13 players. Early into the fall semester, however, two freshman recruits struggled with the transition to college life and quit the team. Later, two veterans were removed from the roster for a violation of team rules.
Suddenly, Stratton and the Mountain Lions are looking at going into the season with only nine players.
â€œThese are the kids that want to be here,â€ said Stratton. â€œI think they understand that they have to fight for each other since there are only nine.â€
While adversity in and of itself isnâ€TMt necessarily a good thing, good things almost always result from overcoming adversity. Stratton believes thatâ€TMs true of her players.
â€œI think that they realize that theyâ€TMre a family,â€ said Stratton. â€œThis is the family that weâ€TMre going to have to go to battle with, and we have been battle tested early.â€
And some of the players have also been battle tested in the tough Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. Foremost among those are a pair of seniors, center Julie Richards and forward Jennine Sauter.
Richards, who was third nationally in blocked shots with 3.9 per game this past season, is also a good outside shooter. She has been working hard on her low post moves to become the type of high-low threat through whom Stratton can run her offense.
â€œWe are definitely going to need to utilize our post,â€ said Stratton. â€œJulie has the capability to draw a lot of attention to herself which than will open up other areas of our game.â€
Sauter, who led the team in scoring last season, is similar in that she has been primarily an outside threat during her first three years at UCCS. Her progress as a post player will have a lot to do with how successful the Mountain Lions will be.
â€œJennine has been working really hard, playing in the post every day in practice,â€ said Stratton. â€œShe knows what it takes to be a good guard, now we need her to ensure more energy is focused on the post play.
â€œI think she is going to cause a lot of problems. She has the ability to turn and face the basket, and beat defenders off the dribble, which not a lot of post players can do.â€
With so few players on the roster, UCCS is fortunate to have good depth in the post. Caroline Ottino, who also plays on the UCCS volleyball team, is a quick, athletic 6-footer who is still refining her basketball skills. Crystal Armendarez has no shortage of skills and has become considerably stronger after being sometimes overmatched physically as a freshman.
While the offense will run through the post, Strattonâ€TMs high-low needs shooters to take advantage when the defense sags down on the post. The first option there will likely be forward Stephanie Sauter, who finished second to her sister Jennine in 3-pointers last season.
â€œSheâ€TMll play all over the perimeter,â€ said Stratton. â€œShe has the ball handling capabilities to take over the point guard position and she has the shooting capability to draw defenses out.â€
The guard spots will be filled by players who feel they have something to prove. Starters Maribeth Martinez and Dolly Fiedelman and key reserve Mackenzie Knobbe spent much of this past season languishing on the bench, seeing only 234, 122 and 99 minutes of playing time respectively. This season, theyâ€TMll have a chance to prove that they should have been on the floor.
Martinez was used as a defensive stopper last year, but she has the strength and quickness to be a force on the offensive end as well. She struggled when her athleticism got ahead of her execution, which led to turnovers and ill-advised shots.
â€œMary can create â€" she is very explosive off the first dribble so she can get by a defender,â€ said Stratton. â€œShe has to find the open player whether that is a post or a guard for the kick-out.â€
Fiedelman is quick and has good court vision. She also has an effective shot. In the three games in which Fiedelman played more than 10 minutes, she went an combined 18-for-35 and averaged 13.7 points.
â€œDolly does a great job of finding the open man,â€ said Stratton. â€œShe is a very good passer off the dribble.
â€œWe had trouble getting her in the mentality to score first and then pass, but that is coming along.â€
Stratton is excited about what the tandem can bring to the floor.
â€œI think having (Martinez and Fiedelman) interact as the one and two is going to force teams to play us honest, because both have shooting capabilities,â€ said Stratton. â€œ(Opponents) canâ€TMt sink down low in the post.â€
Knobbe, a senior, has seen little playing time in her career. When she has played, sheâ€TMs proven to be a solid shooter and a very good rebounder from the guard position.
â€œI think McKenzie has something to prove,â€ said Stratton. â€œI think with that mind set, and her leadership capabilities, she can to come in and be a spark plug.â€
Knobbeâ€TMs sister Whitney will also figure prominently in the guard mix. The younger Kobbe is the teamâ€TMs fastest player and will present matchup nightmares for opposing coaches.
While Stratton may be lonely on the bench, she wonâ€TMt be alone. One of her first moves upon accepting the job was to bring in Phil Johnson as her assistant. Johnson is a veteran of 30 years of coaching basketball in the Pikes Peak Region at the club, middle school and high school levels. His experience provides an excellent counterbalance to the youthful Stratton.
â€œHeâ€TMs such a good teacher,â€ said Stratton. â€œI think we have very good chemistry as a coaching staff.â€
And thatâ€TMs what itâ€TMs really all about â€" chemistry. The Mountain Lions would, on the surface, have plenty of it with a strong mix of experience, athleticism and a healthy chip on the proverbial shoulder. There are question marks to be sure, but chemistry can cure a lot of ills.
It can even cure a coachâ€TMs loneliness on the bench.
UCCS Players/Staff Featured
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