Taking a shot at the championship

By The Beacon | November 21, 2013 12:49am
Freshman guard Kaylie Van Loo looks to get around one of the volunteers the women's basketball team had at practice last weekend.
Photo by David DiLoreto/TheBeacon

By Mitchell Gilbert |

After a hot start, the UP women’s basketball team is optimistic about the upcoming season. Lead by Coach Jim Sollars, the Pilots believe that they have the determination and discipline needed to win a significant amount of games this season and the WCC Championship.  With a big 91-77 win over UW last weekend and a tight loss to Montana 61-68 Monday, the Pilots are currently 2-2.

The Pilots are focusing on what they need to learn from both their wins and losses said they know what they need to do in order to win games this season and be a championship caliber team.

“We have things that we need to learn.  We are ahead of the curve from a defensive standpoint, though we have had some blaring problems with transition defense,” Sollars said. “Offensively we are a little behind. We have just implemented a new system and the girls are not as comfortable as they were with the old system.”

After only losing two of their players this season to transfers, the team will benefit from their chemistry and familiarity. In-game experience is not lacking, with four starters returning and only three freshmen joining the team.

“I get a different vibe from this year’s team. We have so many juniors and seniors and we understand how each other play,” senior guard Alexis Byrd said. “The new people on the team are working well in the system. We are more advanced than in previous years.”

The team’s focus is on winning a WCC championship.  The last time a UP women’s basketball team won the WCC was in 1995. Since then, the Pilots have had eight winning seasons, four in the last five years followed by a losing season last year.

“Our goal is always to win the WCC championship,” junior Kari Luttinen said. “In order to do that though we have to focus on the little things, like our goal for the preseason was to shoot 80 percent from the line. I think if we can improve with the little things our big goal will come along with it.”

With players who can rebound, drive and shoot the ball, this team is diverse and compliment each others’ skills. The return of redshirt junior Cassandra Brown brings a proficient sharpshooter and substantial three-point shooting ability to the team. Last weekend at UW, she scored 28 points and had 12 rebounds. The team can also benefit from the relaxed tempo-setting play of Byrd. She has been averaging 14.5 points per game this season. Last season, Byrd ranked sixth in the WCC for steals and ninth for total assists.

The greatest challenge for this team will be their tough schedule. They will be playing some of the most talented teams in the nation both within and outside the conference. Gonzaga, one of the WCC’s top teams, has beaten the women’s team in 19 of their last 20 matchups. BYU, another of the WCC’s top teams, has beaten the Pilots in all of their last seven matchups.

“We have a very tough schedule ahead of us. UW, Montana, Seattle University, Oregon State will all be tough outside of the conference and we have an equally challenging schedule within the conference playing Gonzaga, BYU and St. Marys,” Sollars said. “All of these teams have been playing very well. I believe that we are a part of the best non-football conference in America.”

The Pilots have a stretch of four tough home games coming up in the next few weeks against Seattle University, Columbia, Oregon State University and Boise State. Wins in these games will be key if they are going have a shot at winning the WCC championship. Their next game in the Chiles Center is Sunday at 4 p.m.