After making two consecutive runs to the conference championship game in Reno, the Idaho State women’s basketball team is entering what head coach Seton Sobolewski described as a weird season.
Idaho State, who is coming off a 19-win season, lost seven players with remaining eligibility from last year’s team and welcomes in nine new players to the 2018 edition, while returning most of its core players.
“You have a large group of experienced people and then you have an equal size of inexperienced players,” Sobolewski said. “It’s a balance of how fast you can go in practice. As soon as you build up some steam and want to add more in, you have to slow down because new people need time to absorb everything.”
Despite winning 18-plus games in the last two seasons and being one win away from an NCAA berth in both years, the Bengals were picked to finish seventh in the preseason media poll and eighth in the coach’s poll.
Some players, such as forwards Lindsay Brown, who would have been a redshirt senior and Jenna Morch, who would have been a redshirt junior, graduated early and chose to move on from Idaho State all together. Some other players didn’t have their scholarships renewed and others chose to transfer because of a lack of foreseeable playing time.
Idaho State was not the only school that was immune to transfers this offseason in women’s college basketball. The University of Maryland lost college basketball’s Freshmen of the Year in Destiny Slocum, a graduate of Mountain View High School, to Oregon State. Maryland, who’s ranked 13th in the USA Today Coaches Poll, lost four players to transfers this offseason.
In addition to losing the seven players with remaining eligibility, Idaho State also lost seniors Freya Newton and April Dawson, which opened even more roster spots for the nine new players, some of which will have an immediate impact on the team.
“Most people think with nine new players it’ll be hard for us to be good this season,” said senior guard Brooke Blair. “I feel like we have more depth to our team.”
Junior transfer Dora Goles has been competing for the starting point guard roll, pushing Blair, who missed last year with a knee injury, over to the two.
“In the beginning, it was looking at them and trying to do what they were doing until we learn what to do,” Goles said. “There are a lot of new drills, a lot of new terms. That was the difficult part. We got used to it and it’s getting better.”
By losing Dawson, Brown and Morch, the Bengals will be working with a young post this season. A developing Sai Tapasa and Irene Vicente, will see an increased role this season and Ellie Smith, Kaitlyn Bell and Delaney Moore, who was signed in August of this year, could make an impact as freshmen.
“Katlyn Bell and Ellie Smith are going to be really good once they know what’s going on,” Sobolewski said. “Delaney More, she has been a real present surprise. She’s smart, she can do a lot of different things, she has some toughness to her. That was a great get, late.”
Idaho State returns its top two leading scorers from last season in Saylor Grandon and Grace Kenyon, who lead the team in points, assists and rebounds per-game last season. Grandon was Third-Team All-Big Sky last season and averaged 14.5 points-per game while shooting over 40 percent from the field.
Blair, the team’s second-leading scorer from two seasons ago, is back from a knee injury she suffered during the season-opener last season.
“I love playing with Brooke,” Grandon said. “It’s like she didn’t even get hurt at all. Brooke is Brooke. She loves basketball and playing with her make you want to play better.”
Idaho State also returns the Big Sky Freshmen of the Year in Estefania Ors.
“I think we try to set a standard that everybody needs to be at,” Kenyon said. “The coaches keep reminding us to keep our level of play high so the new players can learn. A lot of adjusting to learn to play at a high level is adjusting to the speed of the game and the concepts of how each detail matters.”
Idaho State opens its season Saturday night at Reed Gym with an exhibition game against Northwest Nazarene before playing four of its next five on the road, including a trip to Seattle where the Bengals will play Seattle University and the University of Washington, who won 29 games last year and fell in the Sweet-16.
Idaho State returns to Reed Gym November 16 to host the College of Idaho and will take on Utah State at home November 27.