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November 14, 2011

Women's Basketball Ready To Begin 2011-12 Season

The greatest quality about freshman is that next year they are sophomores. Although this thought may sound elementary, the amount of growth that a player goes through between their freshman and sophomore seasons can be vast. The 2011-12 Pacific Lutheran University women's basketball team has grown immensely from a squad that featured ten freshmen a season ago. This season, that class has shrunk to six and the experience they have gained is invaluable. Add to that group a junior who has played 49 games in her first two seasons, a senior floor general who is looking to end her career on a high note, and a small but talented freshman class, and you have a team who may have Northwest Conference foes looking over their shoulders.

The 2010-11 season saw the Lutes finish seventh in the NWC by way of a 4-12 mark in conference play. The team's 6-18 overall record proved the second straight season Pacific Lutheran has failed to record double-digits in the win column. Before this current two-year slide, the Lutes went 15 straight seasons with ten or more wins dating back to the 1994-95 campaign. However, last season's 6-18 record may be a bit misleading as the Lutes lost five games by four points or less. Had a couple of those games gone in Pacific Lutheran's favor, the Lutes could have been fighting for a NWC playoff seed down the stretch.

Although PLU's roster in 2011-12 is young on paper, the Lutes return a strong core of experienced players from a season ago. Senior Sara Backstrom returns for her final season in the black and gold. The point guard from Ridgefield, Wash. averaged 8.4 points per game while leading the Lutes in minutes played during the 2010-11 season. In addition, Backstrom averaged 3.82 assists per game which ranked her second among all Northwest Conference players. As the lone senior on this year's squad, Backstrom will provide a strong leadership component for the Lutes in her final season. Guard Mackenzie Bieker, the team's only junior, started 12 and played in all 24 games for PLU last season. Bieker will provide a sound scoring option for the Lutes in 2011-12 and may be in line to have a breakout season.

The sophomore class provides the nucleus of this season's roster with six girls back from the 2010-11 season. The class is led by Shelly Kilcup and Samantha Potter. Both players were honored with NWC Honorable Mention recognition following their play last year. Kilcup, a lethal outside shooter, enters her third year in the program as a redshirt sophomore and led the PLU offense with 10.8 points per game in 2010-11. The guard from Fife, Wash. shot 44.1% from behind the arc last season which was good for tenth best in the nation. Samantha Potter is emerging as one of the better post players in the conference. Averaging 10 points and 6.8 rebounds per game during her first season at PLU, Potter was the only Lute to start all 24 games last year. Katelyn Smith pairs with Potter to give the Lutes another presence in the post. Although Smith was in the regular rotation last season, minutes were hard to come by in the Lutes guard heavy sets. Nonetheless, Smith appeared in 23 games last season, scoring 5.4 points and grabbing three rebounds per game. Smith will have to take on a bigger role this season to ease the pressure off Potter who has caught the attention of coaches across the NWC.

The sophomore class is rounded out by a solid group of contributors who can step up on any given night. Guards Allie Hamilton, Austin Schorno, and Chrissy Swope will compete for minutes throughout the 2011-12 season. All three guards will look to have a bigger role in the team's make up this season after seeing limited action in their first season in the Pacific Lutheran program.

Fifth-year head coach Kelly Robinson is excited about this year's recruiting class as the program welcomes three new players. Look for Andi Adams and Kara Sherman to get into the early-season rotation. Adams, a guard from Marysville, Wash. is coming off a serious knee injury but has worked hard off the court to come into the season in shape. Robinson has high hopes for Adams in her first year on campus. "She is a great ball handler and has terrific floor vision and court sense- a true point guard who is also very competitive and will fight for playing time this season." Sherman, a guard out of Olympia High School, provides a defensive mindset coveted by all collegiate coaches. "She can really lock down on players defensively and her speed makes her difficult to defend," noted Robinson. Cathinka Sandsdalen rounds out the freshman class. Hailing from Osteraas, Norway, Sandsdalen will have to fight for minutes at the guard spot in her first season in the PLU program. Although this season's class is small, its potential for immediate impact is high.  

The 2011-12 squad has the potential to vastly improve on its seventh place finish from last season. However, the Northwest Conference will be filled with competitive teams challenging for conference supremacy. Defending conference champion George Fox University should prove to be the favorite again as the Bruins welcome back All-NWC first team honorees Keisha Gordon and Hannah Munger. Last season, GFU made a run to the NCAA Division III quarterfinals before being ousted in the 'Elite Eight.' The Lewis & Clark College Pioneers, who received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament last season, welcome back 2010-11 Player of the Year Kristina Williams. The Pioneers, led by the junior point guard, will be in the thick of things at season's end. The University of Puget Sound, Whitman College, and Linfield College will all be fighting for the last couple of NWC post-season tournament berths.       

If the Lutes can rise to the occasion and find a way to turn a number of close losses from last season into wins, Pacific Lutheran could find themselves competing for one of four spots at the Northwest Conference women's basketball tournament, as well.            

Pacific Lutheran kicks off its season November 18 at home against UC Santa Cruz. Northwest Conference play opens for PLU on December 2, at Willamette University.       

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