2008-09 record: 27-7, 12-2 WCC
Coach, record: Kelly Graves 172-109 in eight years at Gonzaga, 283-175 overall
Starters, lettermen returning: 4, 9
Returning starters: Courtney Vandersloot, 5-8, jr., pg, 2009 WCC MVP (16.4 ppg, 7 apg); Heather Bowman, 6-1, sr., f, all-WCC, 2008 WCC MVP (19.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg); Vivian Friesen, 6-0, sr., f, all-WCC (10 ppg, 7.1 rpg); Janelle Bekkering, 6-0, jr., w, (8.4 ppg).
Key games: The Bulldogs have a big-time schedule with three Pac-10 teams and the traditional powers of several other leagues. It will be interesting to see how they open at South Dakota State, fare at Stanford and compete at Las Vegas against Big 12 toughies Baylor and Texas A&M.
Outlook: It’s hard to see the Bulldogs doing anything but winning a sixth straight West Coast Conference title. The question is, do they lose a game? The schedule positions them to make the NCAA even if they lose the conference tournament, but to truly be what they want to be, they need to win some of those non-league games.
Washington State Cougars
2008-09 record: 11-19, 4-14 Pac-10
Coach, record: June Daugherty, 16-44 in two years at WSU, 330-257 overall
Starters, lettermen returning: 3, 9
Returning starters: Jazmine Perkins, 5-10, soph., g, (13.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg); April Cook, 5-8, soph, g, (14.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg); Rosie Tarnowski, 6-1, soph, g-f, (7.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg).
Key games: As usual, every game in the Pac-10 is big, especially for the Cougars, who hope to make a big move up. Worth noting is the trip to Kansas State and Nebreska of the powerful Big 12.
Outlook: The Cougars have been picked sixth, which is big news considering they haven’t finished higher than eighth since 1997-98. That’s a testament to the young talent – the Cougs have no seniors and not one of the three juniors started a game for them last year – which no doubt believes it should move up in the standings. The spotlight is on Idaho transfer Katie Madison, and Moses Lake freshman Carly Noyes to give WSU an inside presence.
2008-09 record: 13-15, 10-6 WAC
Coach, record: Jon Newlee, 13-15 in one year at Idaho, 141-128 overall
Starters, lettermen returning: 3, 5
Returning starters: Charlotte Otero, 5-3, sr., pg, (6.2 ppg, 3.6 apg); Yinka Olorunnife, 6-0, jr., p, All-WAC (12.9 ppg, 11.1 rpg); Shaena Kuehu, 5-9, soph., g, (10.0 ppg, 5.3 apg).
Key games: Gonzaga is a big test to open the season, but the real benchmark is probably traditional Big West power Santa Barbara on Dec. 28, the last game before conference play.
Outlook: Losing leading scorer and WAC Newcomer of the Year Derisa Taleni (14.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg) to a preseason knee injury doesn’t help, and oft-injured Alana Curtis decided to concentrate on school, but the Vandals came a long way in Newlee’s first season, when he was voted WAC Coach of the Year. If the five newcomers adjust quickly the Vandals will be as good or better as the Newlee era takes shape.
Eastern Washington Eagles
2008-09 record: 10-19, 5-11 Big Sky
Coach, record: Wendy Schuller, 94-136 in eight years at EWU.
Starters, lettermen returning: 5, 8
Returning starters: Nicole Scott, 6-2, sr., f, (10.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg); Jessica Huntington, 5-8, sr., pg, (3.7 ppg, 3.2 apg); Julie Piper, 6-1 jr., f, (11.1 ppg, 6.8 apg); Kyla Evans, 5-11, jr., (9.7 ppg), g; Brianne Ryan, 6-0, soph., g, (5.9 ppg).
Key games: After a New Year’s Eve conference opener at Sacramento State, the Eagles are home against Big Sky power Montana and solid Montana State, two barometers to determine if they are headed in the right direction.
Outlook: For a change the Eagles kept all their players, so it’s time to make that experience pay off. After qualifying for the conference tournament seven straight years, the Eags have missed three years. It’s time to return.