After their first Sweet 16 appearance in 2010, the Gonzaga women’s basketball team lost a tremendous trio – Vivian Frieson, Heather Bowman and Tiffany Shives – leaving some question marks heading into the 2010-11 season.
The Bulldogs answered those questions, making a run to the Elite Eight last year.
Then they lost Courtney Vandersloot – and heading into the 2011-12 season head coach Kelly Graves, again, had more questions.
Yet again, those questions were answered behind the play of three senior standouts – Kayla Standish, Katelan Redmon and Kelly Bowen – who led the Bulldogs to a third consecutive Sweet 16 appearance this season.
As the cycle of success continues for Gonzaga, there’s nothing grim about the future.
“That’s where we’ve gotten to as a program – we’re going to lose good players every year,” Graves said. “We’ve been fortunate to keep it rolling.
“We always have question marks. I think our kids keep answering. We still expect to succeed next year and be a player on a national scale. We’ve got a good nucleus.”
While the Bulldogs lose key inside players, the returning guards will likely offer a lot of the answers next year.
Starters Haiden Palmer and Taelor Karr return, along with Jazmine Redmon, who came off the bench, but played starter minutes.
Bench players Danielle Walter, a Pasco native, and Keani Albanez will likely see a lot more playing time.
“Danielle was one of the highest-rated guards coming out of high school,” Graves said. “She dealt with some injuries, but she got healthy toward the end of year and I saw a big difference. She’s going to have good career.
“I wouldn’t trade our guards with anyone in the country – and I really mean that. We’re deep and we’re good. It’s going to come down to how quickly our inside players develop.”
That tall task mostly fall on the shoulders of 6-foot-3 center Stephanie Golden and 6-foot-4 German forward Sunny Greinacher. Shelby Cheslek, a 6-5 center from Pullman, will also be in the mix.
“We’re not as deep inside as we’ve been, but we can be as good,” Graves said.
“Stephanie, I think, can put up big numbers if she’s playing big minutes. And I still believe that Sunny is going to be a big star. She’s in a better spot than Kayla (Standish) was at this point in her career, and look how that turned out. It’ll be interesting and exciting to see.”
Another thing Graves is excited to see is his crop of incoming freshmen.
Collegiate Girls Basketball Report ranked his 2012-13 recruiting class 42nd in the nation.
Joining the Bulldogs next season are 6-2 guard Elle Tinkle, daughter of Montana men’s basketball coach Wayne Tinkle; 6-2 forward Kiara Kudron; and 6-1 guard/forward Chelsea Waters, a Lewiston product.
“What I like so much about them is that they are all long, really athletic and versatile,” Graves said. “They can help us in different areas and that’s important.
“The league will be good again – all of us lost some key players so it could be a dogfight. But until someone knocks us off, I like our team’s chances.”