Young Vandal team returns to the court
Last season a young Idaho women’s basketball team came together and made it all the way to the WAC Tournament semifinals. That team is back and looking to build on last year’s performance with a host of new talent on the roster.
The Vandals just completed their first week of official practice, a week that Idaho coach Jon Newlee said was solid all the way around.
“It’s definitely the best first week we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Newlee said. “I’ve had some good first weeks before and this ranks right up there with them with the returners and the newcomers.”
Last year the Vandals started the season poorly and lost eight games in a row at one point, but rallied in the second half of the season, winning six of their last nine games.
Junior Alyssa Charlston said last year’s conclusion was all about building toward this year.
“We knew what kind of class was coming in, so we really wanted to end on a positive note because we started out pretty rough,” Charlston said.
The Vandals lost two seniors to graduation from last year’s squad, but added four freshmen and one junior college transfer. The Vandals only have two seniors on the roster this season in Jessica Graham and Ana Overgaard, making them one of the youngest teams in the country.
“It’s coming together really well,” Charlston said. “The new girls are learning our offense really quickly, quicker than I’ve seen since I’ve been here honestly. It’s a lot of fun getting to know everyone.”
Newlee said it’s the most talented recruiting class he’s had since he’s been at Idaho, but said its still a process to adjust to college level basketball.
“They’re a talented class,” Newlee said. “…I’m saying you have to work hard, learn from the people that have been here, how the way things are done out here, but more than anything keep your enthusiasm and your work ethic is I thin important at this stage as they learn.”
The roster may be young, but the experience is still there. The Vandals return three starters from last year’s team as well as numerous other players that saw a lot of playing time.
Charlston said that experience will be a big help to the young team.
“We dealt with worse last year,” Charlston said. “We have players that got a ton of playing time last year.”
The one thing Newlee said he’s looking forward to is utilizing his current roster’s speed. The Vandals are deep at the guard position, and Newlee said he plans to capitalize on that quickness, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
“I think we’re going to be more up-tempo,” Newlee said. “We’re going to be able to do some different things defensively and pressure people a little bit better, extend our defensive pressure and like I said, run more and get things a little more up-tempo.”
Overall, the expectations are high for this young Vandal squad. Newlee always says his expectations are to make it to the NCAA Tournament, but this year those expectations are even clearer.
“I think we’re getting closer to meeting those expectations and I certainly think this is a year we could go to the postseason,” Newlee said.
Kevin Bingaman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org