1997-98 Season Outlook

If you take a look at the calendar on Marianne Stanley's office wall, it would not seem to indicate that 1998 is a leap year. Yet to hear the Cal women's basketball head coach talk about the upcoming season, it is clear that she expects the Bears to improve by leaps and bounds as she enters her second year with the program.

"I came here to help take this program to a whole new level and it's time for us to take a big step forward," Stanley explained. "This is the first step of hopefully many steps towards being a nationally visible and top 25 ranked program. It's a big first step, because we're coming from 10th place in the Pac-10 to hopefully the middle of the pack. That's where I'd like to see us compete as a program this year. We have a lot of work ahead but it's doable given the people we have."

Stanley is counting on a group of seven returning letterwinners, including three starters, and a recruiting class that was ranked 14th best in the nation by Blue Star Scouting Service. The Bears have lingered at the bottom of the Pac-10 Conference the past two seasons, including a 6-21 record in 1996-97, but Stanley is optimistic that those days are behind the Bears.

"Realistically this year we should finish in the middle of the Pac-10, but we have to stay healthy and we must show week-by-week improvement," she said. "With a young team that has high potential, that's what you want to see. Whether we win or lose, we need to make continual progress and show a consisent level of improvement."

Headlining the group of veterans is 6-3 junior center Jennie Leander, the team's leading returning scorer (13.0 ppg) and rebounder (8.6 rpg). Sophomore wing Paige Bowie earned Pac-10 Conference All-Freshman honorable mention last season, despite missing the last 11 games of the season with a hand injury. Bowie was the team's third-leading scorer (8.8 ppg), and is expected to claim a starting role after making seven starts as a freshman.

Cal also returns a pair of juniors who started last season in point guard Sherrise Smith, who ranked seventh in the Pac-10 in assists and forward Kobie Kennon, voted team defensive MVP the past two seasons. Providing depth in the middle is 6-5 sophomore center Geneva McDaniel, who ranked sixth in the Pac-10 in blocked shots (1.0 bpg) as a rookie, and was voted the team's Most Improved Player. Also returning are junior forward Jamilla Churchill, a high jumper for the Cal track team, and senior guard Marie Folsom, who has earned 12 starts during her Cal career.

"We have returning players who gained some valuable experience last year and we balance that with some young people who have the potential to be starters and major contributors," Stanley said. "Outside observers have recognized the talent and potential of this group, and their impact on the program is going to be huge if they are committed to steady improvement."

Stanley welcomes an outstanding class of newcomers, including senior forward Amber Lacey, who redshirted last season after transferring from Alabama. The Bears recruiting class, signed during the last academic year, was ranked 14th nationally by Blue Star Scouting Service. That quartet of players includes guard Courtney Johnson, Tamara Inoue and Kenya Corley, all from California, and forward/center Lauren Asbaugh from Washington. In addition, the Bears added freshman forward/guard Masa Radovic from Yugoslavia over the summer, along with a pair of walkon guards, Bermie Dyer and Lindsay Toscano.

"The better talent you recruit, the better team you will have," said Stanley, who won three national championships at Old Dominion. "I could be the best coach in the world but the bottom line is talent. I think we recruited a very talented freshman class and we add a very talented transfer in Amber Lacey. People recognize we have improved this program through recruiting this year. These kids have the character and skills to be impact players on this level and we are pretty excited about it."

Johnson, a 5-8 guard from Antioch HS, earned third team Parade All-America honors and brings a wealth of offensive firepower (22.9 ppg). Inoue, a 5-6 point guard, led Laguna Hills High School to the California Div. II state title last season and earned USA Today All-USA honorable mention honors (14 ppg, 7 apg). Corley, a 5-8 guard from Quartz Hill HS is a quick player with outstanding leaping ability who can play either backcourt position. The 6-2 Ashbaugh was the 1996 Seattle Times Player of the Year at Redmond HS (17 ppg, 14 rpg).

Radovic, a member of the Yugoslavian National Team, will be a major contender for playing time at the wing or in the frontcourt and adds valuable international experience. Dyer, a junior guard, was a two-year letterwinner at San Jose City College and is also a triple jumper for the Cal track and field team. Toscano, a 5-9 guard/forward, earned all-county honors at Justin Siena HS (16.5 ppg, 4.2 apg).

"I hope people come away with an impression that we may not have a lot of experience, but we are quick, aggressive and relentless," Stanley said. "That's the kind of team that when a game gets close or there is a pivotal turn, they can take advantage of it. I see all those things combining to help us take a huge step forward with the program as a whole, and it should be very exciting for our fans to watch it happen."

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