2007-08 season preview
The coach has a new name. She has some exciting new talent. And she's got a smile she can't hide.
Jessika Caldwell (formerly Stratton) is entering her third season at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs women's basketball coach but, in a way, it's her first.
Let me explain.
Caldwell inherited a veteran roster when she arrived at UCCS prior to the 2005-06 season. While that team had plenty of talent, both coach and players were making the adjustment to each other. The following year, Caldwell had nine new faces on the roster which, again, meant little or no continuity.
That's not the case this season. The Mountain Lions return 10 players from last year's team, including four of the five starters.
"You can tell from the first week of practice just how the girls approached one another," said Caldwell. "Some things that I had to say last year to remind them how we play, I don't have to remind them anymore because they remind each other. Just having that group come back and being able to push those young kids to catch up as quickly as they can.
"We're farther ahead this year than we were last year at this time."
The leadership starts in the frontcourt, where Tonya Tripp, Emily Jenkins and Nancy Hoist were UCCS' top three scorers, rebounders and shot blockers.
Tripp improved as the season progressed. Over the final 13 games, the 6-foot-1 senior averaged 15.6 points and 8.9 rebounds per game on 54.3 percent shooting. The drive that allowed for that kind of improvement continued over the summer, when she worked extensively on her conditioning. Also, in a scene reminiscent of Jimmy Chitwood in the movie Ã¢â‚¬ËœHoosiers,' Tripp spent her free hours at her job as a river rafting guide shooting baskets at a hoop on the bank of the Arkansas River.
"Tonya, specifically being a senior, she wants to make a place for herself in UCCS basketball history as well as for the team in UCCS basketball history," said Caldwell.
Hoist, meanwhile, has pronounced herself pain-free after struggling with cranky knees all of last season. Caldwell wants her to open up her game and shoot more.
"Nancy and Tonya came back from summer with something to prove," said Caldwell. "They wanted to make a statement."
There are three other players making a statement in practice. Jenkins, who already has a reputation as a tough-as-nails player, has been battling with fellow small forwards Jazzmin Awa-Williams, who was the Hawaii player of the year this past season as a high school senior, and Kirsten Buttars.
"It is like WWII when those three go up against each other," said Caldwell. "It is absolutely physical. I think that we definitely need; somebody willing to stick their head down and go to the basket at all cost to try to get to the free throw line.
"The match up that Jazzy and Emily have everyday going head to head at practice is definitely one to watch. Emily has improved her outside game tremendously and Jazzy and Kirstin are coming along."
Also coming along are Alex Pitts and Mallory Lowe, who will primarily back up Tripp and Hoist. Pitts averaged 3.4 points and 2.7 rebounds in 14.4 minutes per game as a reserve last year. Lowe is a surprisingly athletic 6-foot-1 freshman from Bushnell, Ill.
Of course, the frontcourt was the team's strength last year so there must be another reason for Caldwell's smile.
"I think obviously our inside game is going to be a big presence," said Caldwell, "but I think fan should look for our outside game really coming along. I think that we will have very good scoring balance."
It's that balance that will make the biggest difference as UCCS vies to return to postseason play. For it to become a reality, the point guards have to produce.
Janean Jubic was thrust into the role of starting point guard early in the season when Stacy LaBuhn went down with a knee injury. While she managed 6.2 points per game and shot 31.9 percent from 3-point range, being a freshman starter at point is never an easy proposition. Those growing pains should pay big dividends this year.
"A year under her belt was probably the best teaching tool that we could possibly give her," said Caldwell. "She spent a lot of time in the off season -- went to point-guard college and did a few other things that really have just elevated her game.
"Above all, Janean is learning what it means to contribute leadership from the point guard position. Leadership meaning getting people in the right spots, getting the ball in the right hands of the right people at the right times and also finding out and figuring out when is the right time for her to drive, to kick, and to shoot."
Another barrier Jubic faced last year was the loss of LaBuhn left the Mountain Lions without a real backup at the point. That won't be the case this season as freshman Felisha Hamilton was added and LaBuhn is on schedule to return soon.
Hamilton is very quick and has a knack for applying defensive pressure. She is also a good ball handler. LaBuhn is a natural point guard with great vision. The only thing that has held her back has been health.
But the point isn't the only area that's improved. Off guards Candace Thornton, Lauren Holm and Whitney Knobbe have also caught Caldwell's eye.
"Our twos have taking it upon themselves to really commit to improving their outside game," said Caldwell. "That was a huge hole in our offense last year. All three of them really understood that they're going to be open because of what our post players present.
"Candace and Lauren spent a ton of time on their outside shot and it is really paying off."
So add it up. Improved shooting and point play. All-conference-caliber post players. Toughness and attitude.
Those things would make any coach smile.
UCCS Players/Staff Featured
|Additional News Stories|
|June 11, 2008||Caldwell sees a little of herself in young UCCS campers||There may be a few future Jessika Caldwells running around at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Recreation Center this week.Caldwell, the coach of the UCCS womenâ€™s basketball team, is currently holding the first of her annual summer camps. Thirty campers, ranging in age from 6- to 10-years old, are honing their skills under the tutelage of Caldwell and seven other coaches, some of whom are current Mountain Lions basketball players. The camp runs from June 9-12 and goes from 9 a.m. to noon each day.|
|May 28, 2008||Mountain Lions add four more to 2008-09 women's basketball squad||University of Colorado at Colorado Springs womenâ€™s basketball coach Jessika Caldwell announced Wednesday that she had signed four players to National Letters of Intent.|
|February 27, 2008||Tripp named second-team all-RMAC.||University of Colorado at Colorado Springs center Tonya Tripp was named second-team all-Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference team for the East division, the conference announced Wednesday.|
|February 23, 2008||Season ends with loss to Nebraska-Kearney||KEARNEY, Neb. -- Four Mountain Lions scored in double figures but the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs were nonetheless beaten Saturday, 82-67 by the Nebraska-Kearney Lopers at the health and Sports Center.|
|February 21, 2008||Tripp's 28 not enough as Mountain Lions fall to Chadron State||CHADRON, Neb. -- Tonya Tripp had 28 points and 12 rebounds and Janean Jubic had eight assists but the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs nonetheless fell 86-81 to the Chadron State Eagles Thursday evening at Armstrong Gym.|