Air Force Women's Basketball Ready For Successful Year
Oct. 25, 2006
With the Falcons coming off their best season ever, Air Force head coach Ardie McInelly is prepared for even bigger and better things for her team in her sixth season at the helm of the program. Just a year after posting a school Division I record with seven victories, the Falcons nearly doubled their win total in 2005-06, finishing the season with a 13-15 overall ledger. Meanwhile, Air Force also swept a pair of conference opponents--Colorado State and San Diego State--en route to a seventh-place league finish. This season, as the Falcons return 13 letterwinners, including four starters, the Air Force squad should continue the progress it has made in the past few years.
Leading the way for the Falcons' returners are senior captains Letricia Castillo and Andrea Taylor. Castillo, in her third season as team captain, will provide valuable leadership both on and off the court, as she embarks upon a quest to become the first 1,000-point scorer in the Falcons' Division I history. Meanwhile, Taylor, who missed the latter half of the season with a knee injury, will look to return healthy for her senior campaign.
The Air Force roster boasts two more seniors in Dawn Higginbotham and Jacki Novak, while leading scorer and rebounder from the past two seasons, junior Alecia Steele, also returns. Junior point guard Lauren Henderson will try to regain the form from her freshman year, after struggling throughout most of the 2005-06 season due to illness. Everyday starter Pamela Findlay looks to add more to her arsenal than her reliable three-point shot, while defensive stopper Jamie Davis will continue to act as a spark plug for the Falcons on the court.
"We're coming off our best year since we've been here, and I think that does say a lot for this team," said McInelly. "We have a lot of returners from last year's team, and we all believe that this year can be even better."
The key to achieving that goal is consistency, across the board. If the Falcons are able to continually play at their highest level, then the 2006-07 season is sure to be a great success.
"I always say you get out of something what you put into it," said associate head coach Lisa Robinson. "If that's true, Letricia will have a great senior year. She realizes her senior year is her last go-around, so she's willing and able to do everything possible to make it a great year."
Castillo has been a stalwart for the Falcons, stepping in wherever needed, including at the point guard position when starters Taylor and Henderson were both out of commission. In fact, Castillo's career-best 27 points came on the road versus Colorado State in the absence of both starting point guards. The coaching staff just looks for Castillo to be more consistent from long-range, where she ranks as one of the Falcons' all-time leaders in both three-pointers made and attempted.
Taylor, the 5-7 point guard from Sugar Grove, Ill., has worked diligently in the off-season to rebound from a knee injury that ended her junior season in February.
"I think she's gained a new appreciation, having injured her knee, [for] what it takes [to succeed]," said Robinson. "She's worked extremely hard at her rehab. As coaches, we're so excited to get her back on the floor for us."
While her knee injury has certainly slowed her down in some respects, Taylor has used the opportunity to work on other aspects of her game, namely her ballhandling and shot close to the basket. As a result, she should be able to step up and find a way to contribute to the success of the team.
Higginbotham, a 5-11 forward from Colorado Springs, Colo., is another player who has worked hard in the off-season, and with her exceptional athleticism, is expected to provide good things for the Falcons. One of her biggest strengths lies in her ability to provide Air Force with a smaller, quicker lineup when needed.
"If she can really focus on the things she does well-she is one of our most athletic players, and that's no secret-she will have a great year," said Robinson. "She gives us the ability to run the floor and get some easy shots. I think she can give us some of those things that can really spark our team. She can really be an impact player for us."
Novak, a 6-3 center from Kewaunee, Wis., and part-time starter last season, will look to step up big in her final season. With the transfer of starting center Ellen Jaeschke, Novak will certainly have the opportunity to make her mark.
"I think Jacki is up for the challenge," said McInelly. "Last spring in workouts, I thought she worked out very very hard. Since we've started back, she's had a very good work ethic. She understands it's an opportunity for her to really make an impact on our team this year."
"She did a lot for us last year and we look for her to continue to do that," said McInelly. "I feel that Alecia is a player that just gets better and better each year. She's done a better job on her outside shot, and she's worked on developing her left hand as well. Alecia is going to hopefully continue to do what she's done the last two years."
Henderson, an honorable mention all-conference pick as a freshman, went through a difficult year last season, hampered by illness throughout most of the year. The 5-5 Nixa, Mo., native is back to give the Falcons an experienced point guard, one who can effectively be a leader on the floor.
"We're very excited to have a healthy Lauren back," said Robinson. "That will make a huge difference in our ability to improve even on last year's record. The biggest thing with Lauren is she does understand the game. She is more of a leader now, and I think she's more willing to take on that role now."
Findlay, a career 42.4 percent three-point shooter, provides stability in the starting lineup at the three-spot. While a solid contributor as a rookie, 5-11 Glenview, Ill., native stepped up her play in her sophomore campaign to become one of Air Force's most consistent scoring threats, particularly from long-range. With her perimeter shot already one of the team's most potent weapons, Findlay has worked on bringing even more depth to her game.
"At this time, Pam's probably the most improved player on our team," said McInelly. "She's spent a lot of time this summer working on her ballhandling, working on her ability to get by the defense and go all the way to the basket. We just love Pam's work ethic and we really feel that she's going to have a breakout year this year."
Rounding out the junior class is Davis, a Fresno, Calif., native. The 5-7 guard has emerged to become the Falcons' top defensive threat, leading the team with 45 steals in 2005-06 en route to earning defensive MVP honors.
"Jamie is really a pleasure to coach, because she does have a great attitude," said Robinson. "She also really understands the game well, and behind the scenes, shares that with her teammates, which really adds a lot to our team. She just has that uncanny ability defensively to anticipate. She continues to get better because she works hard and she's got a great attitude and she has some of those intangible things that sometimes you can't coach."
"Brooke just gets better and better," said McInelly. "Her biggest asset is probably on the offensive end. She can score, she can shoot from the perimeter, she can go inside. Brooke has a huge upside. She loves the game of basketball and she's just going to continue to improve."
Another guard on the Falcons' roster is Kory Gladysz, a native of Tigard, Ore. A product of the Academy Prep School, Gladysz has the ability to hit the outside shot and will provide valuable depth at the off-guard position.
"She's a competitor," said McInelly. "She's got quick hands, she's got quick feet. She's done some work this summer and this fall to improve on some of that quickness and improve on her confidence in hitting the outside shot."
Bringing some size and strength into the post is Dana Loveless, a 6-0 native of St. Louis, Mo. Loveless has used her first year at the collegiate level to adjust to a different style of play, particularly on the defensive end, and the coaching staff looks for her to be a big contributor in the post.
"Dana is another good-sized post player for us," said McInelly. "She has learned a lot on the defensive end her freshman year. We look for Dana to be able to step in and give us some good quality minutes. I think that she's a strong individual. We really believe that Dana will be able to help us out this year."
Fellow post player Kim Kreke, a 6-3 native of Salem, Ill., certainly adds height on the inside, with her long and lean build. While she does not have the size of some of her teammates, Kreke has worked diligently on building her strength and being more effective in the paint. In addition, she gives the Falcons an added weapon with her ability to shoot from the perimeter.
"She's never going to be the back-to-the-basket banger because she's not built like that," said Robinson. "But she can give us some things around the basket because she has been working on her post moves. She can step outside and hit that shot for us. She's another person in the post that really understands the game. We'll continue to see her game really really blossom. I think all of her best basketball is ahead, because she's gotten stronger, because she's more experienced. She'll really bust out this year."
The sophomore class is completed by Chasmine Jones, a 5-10 post player from West Covina, Calif. Jones saw action in just one contest in her freshman campaign, sitting out the bulk of the season with an Achilles injury. While she missed the opportunity to gain valuable experience last season, Jones showed some of her capabilities in the team's summer trip to Canada, and should continue to improve.
"I think it's critical that she is able to really learn those things that she missed out on last year," said Robinson. "Since she is undersized, she needs to continue developing her outside shot, the ability to put it on the floor from the high post and be able to create opportunities in some of those ways. She does have an uncanny ability to get her shot off. She potentially could give us a lot in the post because she is a physical player."
Rounding out the group of newcomers for Air Force is Kathleen Schjodt, a 6-0 forward from Hot Springs, S.D. Schjodt, who possesses a strong perimeter shot, has the ability to make an impact. She, like the rest of the incoming freshmen, will spend a great deal of time on learning the team's style of play, both offensively and defensively.
With the new crop of talent added to the solid core of veterans, this year's Air Force team is prepared to meet--and exceed--all of its expectations.
"Last year we showed we could compete; now our team just needs to remember what got them there," said McInelly. "They need to work hard everyday-not just on gameday, but in practice-to reach their expectations. That will set the tone for what we hope to accomplish this year."