Just because Alex Carlson has seen his All-American backcourt move on doesn’t suddenly mean he’s going to drastically change how the Southern Oregon women’s basketball team plays.
The Raiders will run, they will up the pace, they will continue to shoot plenty of 3-pointers and then get right in your face on the defensive end of the floor.
It’s what has led the Raiders to win 88 of Carlson’s first 100 games at the helm in Ashland.
But Carlson will be the first to tell you that you can’t try and fit a square peg into a round hole. If there needs to be tweaks made to the system, they will happen.
“It’s about making those pieces fit for us instead of just saying ‘This is how it’s done in the past’ or ‘This is how Toria (Bradford) or this is how Remi (Mejia) did things,’”Carlson said. “We have to find out how our new people do things and how we can put them in the best position to be successful. I think we’re doing some new things that should be exciting to see and hopefully work out in a very positive result for our new players.”
The No. 12-nationally ranked Raiders, coming off a 28-win campaign a year ago, were picked to finish second in the Cascade Conference. SOU opens its season at 5:30 p.m. tonight in Redding, Calif., against Simpson University.
Carlson feels like this season’s team is more experienced compared to last year’s squad that advanced to the second round of the NAIA Division II National Tournament for the simple fact that 12 of his 16 players were in their first year in the program last year.
While there’s no longer the All-American tandem of Mejia (second team) and Bradford (honorable mention), Carlson is confident SOU’s “by committee” approach to replacing two of the Raiders’ biggest contributors from a season ago will be an effective one.
“Our biggest strength is that we have a really solid group where if you take away something then we’re going to have somebody that has the ability to step up that night add that production,” Carlson said. “We could have somebody score 16 points one night and then have 6 the next night because somebody else is doing it. That’s really our system and how we want it to work.”
A familiar name will step into the starting point guard role left by Bradford’s departure in junior Daranda Hinkey, who was one of the first players off the bench for Carlson last season. Hinkey averaged 16 1/2 minutes a game last season and was the Raiders’ second-best 3-point shooter behind Mejia, shooting nearly 38 percent from behind the arc.
A pair of 5-foot-9 sophomore wings, Kenadee Honaker and Syd’Nee Fryer will also see their roles expanding from a season ago and give the Raiders plenty of length and athleticism in the backcourt.
“The one we’re really excited about is Daranda,” Carlson said. “She’s a junior, she’s been here the last two years and one of the big things we tell her is that she’s only played against All-Americans since she got here. She doesn’t know anything different and she’s faced the best competition, I think, any guard at this level could to prepare for this. She’s had big games for us in the past, she’s shown she’s capable and now it’s just showing the consistency and doing it night-in and night-out.”
Two All-Americans may have graduated, but one all-conference player still remains in the form of senior forward Ariel Augustine, a honorable mention all-CCC pick who averaged 11.9 points per contest and started all 33 of SOU’s games as a season ago.
Another senior, Destinee Jones, will start at the other post spot. Praised by Carlson for her tireless work ethic, Jones — who joined Southern Oregon’s ROTC program in the offseason — became a regular in the starting lineup in the second half of last season, averaging 17.1 minutes per game.
However, the Raiders’ lack of size — two of their three two true centers will miss substantial time this season due to injury — will mean that the up-tempo style will be even more of a priority for Calson.
“That is our big thing, tempo and pace, so we’ll really have to do it with our lack of size,” Carlson said. “Pace is going to be the name of the game to make up for our lack of size, so we do plan on playing 11 people this year. I think we have to do that.”
No matter if they are trying to replace a pair of All-Americans or just a couple of rotation players, the benchmark and expectation level has been set based on years prior under their fifth-year head coach.
A few of the names on the roster may be different, but plenty remain the same and the bar remains set quite high.
“You come here, you work hard, you’re a part of a winner and then when your time comes, you’re really prepared,” Carlson said. “We feel like there’s some players here that if we put them on some of the lower teams in our league you’d be saying ‘You’ve got a girl coming back that averaged 15 points last year, you’re going to be great.’ Instead, we’ve got girls coming back that averaged 6 points but have been to the national tournament every year they’ve been here, too. That’s our philosophy and we hope they take that step this year because we think they’re ready.
“We lost four very good players, two All-Americans for us who had done a lot, so it will be interesting to see how people step into their new roles as far as handling the ball, handling bigger expectations and see how they do with that.”
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.