Oct. 23, 2000
BERKELEY - The ingredients are in place for the California women's basketball team to have a breakthrough 2000-01 season. If the Golden Bears can carefully blend a successful new coach with a veteran team and avoid injuries, they will experience the sweet taste of a winning season.
Caren Horstmeyer begins her first season as head coach at Cal after posting a 221-124 record in 12 seasons at Santa Clara. The winningest coach in West Coast Conference history, she takes over a Cal program that was on the brink of having its first winning season in six years last year before the injury bug struck about half the team.
After starting the 1999-2000 season with a 5-2 mark, Cal finished the year 11-17 overall and 6-12 in the Pac-10. When Cal was healthy again at the end of the season, it showed its potential by winning four of its final six games, including a road win against NCAA Tournament qualifier UCLA. The Bears two losses at the end of the season to USC and No. 20 Arizona were by a combined nine points, contributing to the 10 games Cal lost by 10 or fewer points last season.
Horstmeyer, a San Francisco Bay Area native, has shown her ability to turn around a program. After compiling a 16-38 record in her first two campaigns at Santa Clara, she led the Broncos to 10-consecutive winning seasons and six postseason appearances. The Broncos won 20 or more games six times under Horstmeyer, including the last three years.
"To win, it takes more than just having excellent talent," said Horstmeyer. "We're emphasizing the importance of developing a consistent work ethic, working together as a team and believing in our system."
The foundation for winning at Cal over the last three years has centered around defense. The Bears have seen their scoring defense improve from 70.9 ppg in 1997-98 to 67.7 ppg in 1998-99 to 64.6 ppg in 1999-00, which ranked third in the league.
While the coaching staff may be new to Berkeley, Cal is stocked with veteran players motivated to lead the team to the NCAA Tournament. The Bears 13-player roster features seven seniors and two juniors. They also return three of last year's starters, which boast a combined 244 games of experience, including 131 starts.
"I can't remember a team where I've had seven seniors," said Horstmeyer. "That kind of veteran leadership is invaluable. I think everyone has been responding very well to a new coaching staff. What I've been most excited about is that the players are excited. They made great strides during the spring."
The Bears three returning starters - seniors Courtney Johnson (5-8 guard), Kenya Corley (5-8 guard), Lauren Ashbaugh (6-2 forward) - were among Cal's top five scorers last season. Cal must fill the shoes of two 1999-00 starters -- small forward Paige Bowie and center Shavaki Jackson. Bowie finished her four-year career as the school's 14th-all-time scorer (1,043 points). Jackson ranked second on the team in scoring (11.6 ppg) and first in rebounding (8.7 rpg) last year but opted not to return to the team for the 2000-01 season.
An honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection as a junior in 1999-00, Johnson is a natural shooting guard but has served as Cal's starting point guard over the last two years due to injuries to her teammates. Last season, she led Cal in scoring (11.7 ppg) and assists (3.1 apg) and paced the Pac-10 in steals with 3.2 per game. The Antioch native led or tied for team-high scoring honors in five games last season, including a career-high 22 points at Santa Clara.
"We're going to use Courtney a lot at point guard to take advantage of her experience and court awareness," said Horstmeyer. "But, we want to see her as a scoring point guard, as she has great scoring abilities. Nicole Ybarra and Latasha O'Keith will also play critical roles at the point so that Courtney doesn't have to play the point all of the time."
One of the most athletic players in the Pac-10, Corley emerged as a go-to player for the Bears as the starting shooting guard as a junior in 1999-00. She more than doubled her offensive production from her sophomore (4.2 ppg) to her junior (10.5 ppg) year and led or tied for team-high scoring honors in nine games. The Lancaster product's most dominating performance last season was a career-best 19-point (8-of-9 FG) effort in Cal's 82-66 victory at Fresno State. Corley spends her springs as a long jumper and sprinter for the Cal track and field team.
"Kenya is the most athletic player I've ever coached," said Horstmeyer. "She's extremely quick and jumps incredibly well. What I'd like to see more of from her this year is consistency in her play. I really feel she and Courtney can play in the WNBA."
Ashbaugh, who is Cal's top returning rebounder at 6.1 per game, is strong physically and provides an inside and outside scoring threat. She averaged a career-best 8.5 points per game and led the Bears with 22 blocked shots (43 career) as a junior, putting her on pace to graduate in the top 10 at Cal for blocks. The native of Redmond, Wash., led or shared team-high rebounding honors in 10 games and owns a team-best four career double-doubles.
"Lauren has a good work ethic and is mentally tough," said Horstmeyer of the Bears two-year starter at power forward. "She has leadership abilities I would like to see her develop this season. From a player perspective, she does many things well - shoots the three, plays inside and outside, rebounds well and will be a defensive force."
Three of Cal's seniors are second-year junior college transfers who are ready to step up their performances now that they've adjusted to the Division I level of play. Nicole Ybarra, a 5-8 player from Elk Grove, saw minutes at both guard spots as a junior. Despite suffering from an Achilles tendon injury during the Pac-10 season, Ybarra gutted out about 10 minutes of playing time per game and led all Cal reserves with 1.3 assists per game.
A 5-10 guard from Lemon Grove, Staubes started two games and provided a spark when injuries depleted the 1999-00 Bears. She saw most of her playing time at the one and two guard spots last year but could challenge for starting duties at either shooting guard or small forward this season.
Genevieve Swedor, a 6-3 center who hails from Switzerland, runs the court well and is a critical component to Cal's up-tempo style of play. She averaged 2.1 points and 1.6 rebounds per game in about eight minutes per contest as a junior and is expected to see her production increase with increased playing time this year. In the spring, Swedor joins Corley on the Cal track and field team as a triple jumper.
Senior 5-10 forward/guard Brook Coulter joins the Cal basketball team after earning honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors as a senior outside hitter on the Cal volleyball team last season. She was a two-time basketball all-conference honoree at Rocky Mountain High School in Fort Collins, Colo., before being recruited to play volleyball at Cal in 1996.
The Bears junior class features a talented duo in Ami Forney and Janet Franey. Forney looks to open the 2000-01 season as strong as she did last year prior to sustaining a foot stress fracture, which sidelined her for nine games. A 6-2 post from Newark, she averaged 11.4 points and 7.2 rebounds per game during the first eight contests as a sophomore. Forney boasted outstanding 1.5:1 offensive to defensive rebounding numbers last season, helping the Bears lead the Pac-10 in offensive rebounding at 17.0 per game. She made 11 starts at center for the Bears a year ago and will compete with Swedor for the starting nod in the middle this season.
Franey, a 5-8 guard, served as a walk-on during her first two seasons but was awarded a scholarship for the 2000-01 campaign. A talented shooter out of San Diego, she ranked third in the state of California in scoring as a senior at Helix High School at 29.8 points per game.
Cal's sophomore class consists of 6-0 forward Amber White and 5-9 walk-on guard Michelle Wald. An honorable mention All-Pac-10 Freshman honoree, White helped the Bears to the third-best scoring defense in the Pac-10 at 64.6 ppg, which is the best by a Cal team since 1977-78. She led all reserves with 20 steals and often held the role of stopping an opponent's top scorer.
Wald will join the Cal basketball team in November after she completes her second season as a midfielder/back on the Bears field hockey team. As a basketball freshman, she saw action in three games.
Freshmen Kiki Williams and Latasha O'Keith are expected to contribute to the Bears success immediately. Williams, a 6-1 forward from San Rafael, led Terra Linda High School to the 1999 Marin County Athletic League title as a junior, averaging 22 points and 11 rebounds per game. O'Keith, a 5-7 guard from Carson, prepped at Narbonne High School, which was the No. 1 team in the nation in '99-00. O'Keith, who averaged 11 points and eight assists per game in 1999-00, has a quick first step to the basket and will be counted on to play both guard positions. Williams' combination of speed and size should see her minutes at both forward spots.
Cal faces a difficult schedule, which includes playing the first of seven non-conference road games Nov. 17 at Rutgers, a 2000 NCAA Final Four participant. The Bears also face during the Pac-10 season NCAA qualifiers Stanford, Oregon, Arizona and UCLA. Meanwhile, USC and Arizona State competed in the 2000 WNIT.
The Bears compete in two tournaments this season. Cal hosts the 23rd-annual Oakland Tribune Classic, Dec. 2-3, at Haas Pavilion. The tournament features a competitive field - Cal, Loyola Marymount, Cal State Northridge and Florida International. Cal spends Thanksgiving in Chicago, Nov. 24-25, at the Illinois-Chicago Tournament, where the Bears face SEC power Alabama in the first round.
With a tough schedule and a lot of road games, Horstmeyer recognizes the importance of her team playing well at home in the state-of-the-art 12,172-seat Haas Pavilion.
"Haas Pavilion is an amazing facility," said Hortmeyer. "My impression is that it can get quite loud during games. Our goal is to develop a homecourt advantage, where the fans become our sixth man. Developing homecourt pride is important for Cal to be successful in the very competitive Pac-10 Conference."