June 29, 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 which 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.
A San Francisco Bay Area native, Horstmeyer has shown her ability to turn a program around. After compiling a 16-38 record in her first two campaigns at Santa Clara, she led the Broncos to 10-consecutive winning seasons. The Broncos won 20 or more games six times under Horstmeyer, including the last three seasons.
"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."
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 15-player roster features seven seniors and four juniors. They also return four of last year's starters, which boast a combined 292 games of experience, including 148 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 four returning starters - seniors Courtney Johnson (5-8 guard), Kenya Corley (5-8 guard), Lauren Ashbaugh (6-2 forward) and junior Shavaki Jackson (6-4 center) - were among Cal's top five scorers last season. Cal must fill the shoes of small forward Paige Bowie, who finished her four-year career as the school's 14th-all-time scorer (1043 points).
Johnson and Jackson earned 2000 honorable mention All-Pac-10 recognition. The team's MVP, Johnson led Cal in scoring (11.7 ppg) and assists (3.1 apg), and paced the Pac-10 in steals with 3.2 per game. Jackson, a Berkeley native, was Cal's second-leading scorer at 11.6 ppg and led the league in rebounding with 8.7 rpg.
Corley more than doubled her offensive production from her sophomore (4.2 ppg) to her junior (10.5 ppg) season. Ashbaugh averaged a career-best 8.5 ppg and led the Bears with 22 blocked shots last year.
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. Guards Nicole Ybarra (5-8) and Becky Staubes (5-10) saw minutes at both guard slots as juniors. Despite suffering from an Achilles tendon injury during the Pac-10 season, Ybarra gutted out about 10 minutes of playing time per game. Genevieve Swedor, a 6-3 center, runs the court well and is a critical component to Cal's up-tempo style of play.
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 honorable mention all-conference selection at Rocky Mountain High School in Fort Collins, Colo.
In addition to Jackson, the junior class features a trio of other talented players. Ami Forney looks to open the 2000-01 season as strong as she did last season prior to sustaining a foot stress fracture, which sidelined her for nine games. A 6-2 post from Newark, Calif., Forney averaged 11.4 ppg and 7.2 rpg during the first eight games as a sophomore.
Cal's two sophomores are 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.
Freshmen Kiki Williams and Latasha O'Keith are expected to contribute to the Bears success immediately. Williams, a 6-1 forward from San Rafael, Calif., 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 point guard from Harbor City, hails from Narbonne High School, which was the No. 1 team in the nation in '99-00.
The Bears face a difficult schedule, which includes opening the season at Rutgers, a 2000 NCAA Final Four participant. 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."