SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Coming off a 14-win season, Santa Clara women's basketball welcomes back eight players who saw significant minutes in 2012-13. Santa Clara will also have two players who red shirted the season and five heralded freshman from Washington, California, Oregon, and Colorado.
"Our goal is to finish in the top-four of the WCC and to get to the postseason," said Santa Clara head coach Jennifer Mountain, entering her sixth season leading the Broncos. "The ultimate goal is to win that WCC Championship and we have a lot of talent on our team. It is going to take some time and playing some games here to see exactly where we are instead of playing against ourselves. We are ahead of where we were in the past. At this point, the understanding is a lot higher and the IQ is a lot higher. Postseason play is something that our team is definitely striving for."
With postseason play on their minds, the Broncos have made some changes to how they are going to play in the game. In practices so far this year, Mountain has seen a lot of positives.
"I really like our pace this year," said Mountain. "I think the entire group has bought into the pace that we want to play and we are able to create a lot more. We have taken a step forward from where we ended up last year and I think this is a very positive thing. I have been seeing a lot of good individual performances from people and I think they are gelling well. The incoming class has really gelled and fit in nicely."
"Having a big freshman class of five, and this group in particular, has been really good for us," said Mountain. "I think they have adapted and have been able to contribute right away in a lot of different areas. Their chemistry with the returners is really good and they complement each other really well. I'm excited because the learning curve is not going to be as deep as it is when you have a big group of freshman coming in and you have to do a lot of teaching. These kids have really caught on well. Being able to work with them in the summer has been an advantage also. We're not teaching everything from the first day of official practice because we had eight weeks with them where we have been able to do things earlier than normal. It has been a good adjustment."
The depth on the roster is something that has allowed Santa Clara to up its pace on the floor and should transform the team.
"Our pace of play is going to be a lot faster than what our fans have seen in the past," explained Mountain. "Having depth has allowed us to go and do that, where we haven't been able to do that in the past. There are so many different combinations we can have on the floor right now so as a staff we really don't know a starting lineup that is secured right now. That depth means players compete every day in practice which is going to make our team a lot better and hopefully make us last longer. Your body doesn't take as big of a beating if you are playing 20 minutes instead of 35 minutes."
There were also changes to the coaching staff over the offseason. Amanda Brown was promoted to assistant coach after serving as Director of Basketball Operations for the last three seasons. Angie Bjorklund was hired to replace Brown as the Director of Basketball Operations.
"It is always really nice when you can just move somebody across the board," said Mountain. "Amanda has a great basketball mind and has a great relationship with our players. Angie has come in and adapted really well. She was thrown into the fire right off the bat because we were starting school by the time she got here. She brings in a totally different experience being at Tennessee. I think that is going to be really positive for us and our program."
The 14 wins the Broncos put up in 2012-13 were a high under Mountain, as were the six wins in the competitive West Coast Conference. Santa Clara also improved its win total for the fifth consecutive season.
Ricki Radanovich is the top returning scorer for Santa Clara. Radanovich added 10.5 points per game while hitting a West Coast Conference-high 68 threes. She also led the team with 1.8 steals per game. Nici Gilday showed a well-rounded game all year by averaging 7.5 points per game, 4.3 rebounds per game, 2.4 assists per games and 1.2 steals per game as the first option off the bench to start the year and as a starter midway through the year. Ruta Zurauskyte was tops on the team with a 48.6 percent mark shooting while scoring 10.5 points per game and led the team with 7.2 rebounds per game. She averaged 1.0 blocks per game as well.
"Nici Gilday has made probably the biggest jump in her overall game through the summer," said Mountain. "She is playing really well and at a very high level right now. There are some freshmen that can come in and play a lot of minutes, which will make us good. We have Ricki coming back who is a senior who has played a lot of minutes for us over the three years. Everybody's roles are going to change because of our depth."
With the changes to the team, Mountain thinks this season of Bronco women's basketball will be fun to watch for the fans.
"We are going to be an exciting team to watch," said Mountain. "The pace at which we want to play is so much faster than we have played in the past and that should be appealing to the fans. This group has more explosiveness to score the ball and can do some things that some teams in the past haven't been able to do. It's a different team and a different passion. The players will fuel off the fans and have fun with it. We are going to be a lot more fun to watch overall. I would love to have the Ruff Riders come out. It is imperative to all programs on campus to have people support you and playing in front of them is huge."
The Broncos open the season in Las Vegas, Nev. at UNLV on Nov. 8. Santa Clara then comes home for its home opener on Nov. 12 vs. San Jose State in a doubleheader with men's basketball.
West Coast Conference play begins on Dec. 30 vs. San Francisco.
The WCC Tournament will be March 6-11, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nev. at the Orleans Arena.