NEWBERG, Ore. – Changes galore are in store for George Fox University in the upcoming 2010-11 women's basketball season, but one thing doesn't appear be all that different - the Bruins can reasonably expect to make a run at the Northwest Conference crown and an NCAA Division III post-season berth for the fifth year in a row.
The most obvious change for the Bruins will be in the leadership department. With the departure of long-time coach Scott Rueck for the women's basketball position at his alma mater, Oregon State University, the entire coaching staff is new. Rueck left a legacy of a 288-88 record in 14 seasons, seven NWC titles, seven NCAA Tournament appearances, and a national championship and 32-0 record in 2009. The Bruins went 28-3 last year in Rueck's final season, won the NWC with a second straight 16-0 conference mark, and lost in the NCAA Tournament 'Elite 8' round to eventual national champion Washington University-St. Louis.
Those are big shoes to fill, but the Bruins brought in one of the most successful high school coaches in Oregon to step in. Michael Meek takes over the reins of the George Fox program after winning five large-school state championships in the last six years at Southridge High School in Beaverton, Ore., bringing with him assistants Tom Batsell and Kevin Eakin. B.B. Gardner, the Bruins' point guard for the last four seasons, is also on staff as an assistant coach this year.
"We've been introducing some new things," admits Meek, "which I think the team is enjoying, yet we're also going through a period of adjustment because there was a lot of success here with what they were doing in the past. The overall components of our program will remain."
Two key components for the Bruins are returning starters Keisha Gordon (Jr., Vancouver, Wash. / Heritage HS) at wing and Hannah Munger (So., Newberg, Ore. / Newberg HS) at post. Gordon led the team in scoring with 13.9 points a game, averaged 6.3 rebounds, 2.45 steals, and 2.48 assists a game, and ranked 48th nationally and second in the conference in free throw percentage (.831). Munger was named the West Region Rookie of the Year after averaging 12.3 points a game while leading the NWC in rebounds (8.2 rpg), field goal percentage (.553, 25th nationally), and blocked shots (3.45 bspg, seventh nationally). Both were First Team All-Conference and Second Team All-West Region selections.
"At 6-5, Hannah is truly unique at this level," Meek observes. "Yes, she's tall, and it is nice to have a shot-blocker as our last line of defense, but she is also a talented athlete who runs the court well and is a strong offensive threat. The best thing is that she works hard and still has room to grow as a player. Keisha gives us balance as our best perimeter scorer and outside player; she can shoot the long-range shot or create her own shot on the drive."
In addition to Gardner, the Bruins also lost forward Elise Kuenzi and wing Lindsay Keener from last year's starting lineup. Gardner and Kuenzi were honorable mention All-NWC selections, and finding capable replacements for them are among Meek's priorities.
Emerging as the top candidate at forward is 6-1 Breezy Rinehart-Young (Jr., Kirkland, Wash. / HS), who has spent her first two seasons as the back-up center to Second Team All-American Kristin Shielee in 2008-09 and to Munger last year. She averaged 3.9 points, 3.2 points, and 0.83 blocked shots per game, which ranked ninth in the NWC, last year. If she can seize the four-position, the Bruins will have the option of running a double-post offense.
"Breezy has been one of our biggest surprises with her strength and overall ability," notes Meek. "For her size, she is probably our best all-around athlete, and may be ready to come into her own by stepping out from the shadow of the posts we've had."
At the open wing position, Arianna Mohsenian (Jr., Yakima, Wash. / East Valley HS) and Carrie Myers (Jr., Townsend, Mont. / Townsend HS) bring the most experience. Mohsenian averaged 6.0 points and 3.5 rebounds a game and was second on the team with 46 three-pointers, while Myers averaged 2.1 points and 1.3 rebounds per outing.
"Ari gives us a lot of experience and has played a major role off the bench the last two years," says Meek. "She provides us a legitimate scoring threat every time she comes into a game. Carrie is a good athlete who is versatile and experienced; she can play either a wing to give us outside shooting, or a forward for additional rebounding."
Also back at the wing is Katie Morse (So., Star, Idaho / Greenleaf Christian Academy), who averaged 1.3 points in limited duty as a rookie. Comments Meek, "Katie is one of our better outside shooters. She has good overall skills and is continuing to improve all the time."
Carly Towne (So., Tualatin, Ore. / Wilsonville HS) is the Bruins' lone returning point guard after averaging 2.8 points last season. Says Meek, "Carly is a solid all-around player with leadership qualities, but saw limited playing time behind B.B. last year. We need her to step up big-time for us this season."
Eight newcomers - seven freshmen and one transfer - dot the roster, and all are expected to see significant playing time in their first season with the Bruins. Notes Meek, "Every one of our new players is a good athlete with considerable basketball skills; it is just a matter of getting them used to the college game and the style of play we want to run."
"Megan is really more of a four than a five with a good outside shot, but she is a strong athlete who knows how to score down low and get rebounds," comments Meek. "We will call on her a lot this season. Jordin is our tallest recruit at 6-2, but likewise is probably more comfortable shooting the short-range jumper, although she can also go inside if needed. McKenzie gives us some legitimate inside strength at post, and can hit the outside shot as well."
New wing players for the Bruins include Kelsey Khaw (Fr., Gresham, Ore. / Centennial HS), McKenzie Gorman (So., Springfield, Ore. / Thurston HS), and Crystal Blair (Fr., Ketchikan, Alaska / Ketchikan HS). Gorman is the Bruins' lone transfer, from Stephens College in Missouri where she averaged 2.7 points and 1.4 rebounds last year. Blair has been slowed by a foot injury suffered in an early practice.
"Kelsey has a good feel for the game," says Meek, "but we have to find the right position for her; she was a point guard in high school but may be better suited as a shooting guard in college. McKenzie is a good outside shooter who has improved a lot in the short time she has been here. Crystal was a four in high school but, at 5-7, will be learning more guard skills for college; she has a good head for the game but needs experience.
"Both Hayley and Kylee are very athletic and can play either the one or the two-guard positions," observes Meek. "Hayley may be our fastest athlete; she can get up and down the floor and jumps extremely well. She has good guard skills for a 5-10 player, even for the point. Kylee is a good on-ball defender and can hit the pull-up jumper. I expect them to see a lot of playing time this season."
Meek believes the Bruins' overall size, athleticism, and talent will benefit the Bruins in the early stages of the season as the program transitions to new coaches, new plays, and new players.
"We're trying to keep things in perspective right now," admits Meek. "There are changes going on, as there will be any time a new coach comes in, so I want to use the first part of our season to get everyone on the same page together. Our kids have been super-receptive to that, but team cohesiveness takes time. Talent may carry us through the early part of the schedule, but our goal is to finally be doing well and running smoothly in January and February, when conference play heats up."
SCHEDULE: George Fox tips off the new season with three consecutive home games, starting with Corban University on Tuesday, Nov. 16, at 7:30 p.m. in the Wheeler Sports Center's Miller Gym. The Bruins will participate in two holiday tournaments, the Caldwell Best Western Inn & Suites Lady 'Yote Classic Nov. 26-27 during Thanksgiving in Caldwell, Idaho, and the Surf 'n' Slam Classic at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, Calif., Dec. 27-30 between Christmas and New Year's.
The Northwest Conference schedule this season actually features two games before the holidays, with the Bruins playing on Nov. 30 at Willamette University and Dec. 4 at Pacific Lutheran University. The first home conference game for the Bruins will be Jan. 8 vs. Pacific University.
POLLS: George Fox is the pre-season coaches' favorite to win the NWC title. The Bruins shared conference titles with the University of Puget Sound in '07 and '08, then won the crown outright in '09 and '10 with 16-0 records in conference play in both seasons.
The Bruins are No. 10 nationally in both the DIII News newsletter and D3hoops.com pre-season polls. The USA Today / ESPN / Women's Basketball Coaches Association poll has George Fox as the No. 8 in the nation.