An outsider might see the Santa Clara's women's basketball program starting anew. After all, there is a new coach to the lead the team, a new arena to play the games in, and a new trio of freshman. But don't let that fool you. Some things never change. Although Chris Denker enters his first season as head coach of the Broncos, he's been an assistant here for seven years. And although the Leavey Event Center has received a new roof, floor, scoreboard and seats, it's still the same piece of land that has seen the Broncos go 40-6 in the last three seasons. And finally, Santa Clara's group of newcomers are anything but inexperienced as they were all USA Today All-State players and bring in leadership from more than 10 high school league and state championships.
This season, look for Santa Clara to continue to be a team of unselfishness, according to Denker. He describes the Broncos' style of play to be of the type that spreads the wealth and can back up that statement with the following statistics. In each of the last two seasons, six players have scored at least 200 points in any given season. In the last nine games of the 2000 season, the Broncos were led in scoring by six different players. The Broncos have also led the league in assists in the last 2-3 years.
Eleven letterwinners and three starters return from a squad that went 21-9 last year and went to the postseason for the third straight season. Add three newcomers to the roster, and Santa Clara seems to have all the components necessary for a successful season.
"Since last year, we've become much stronger," Denker said. "We've improved ourselves in the areas of athleticism, which I consider to be speed, quickness, jumping ability and strength. We have seen tremendous improvement."
But even with improvement, there will be room for growth, as the backcourt will have to be redefined to overcome the key losses of Stephanie Rogers and Katie Pursley. The graduates combined to average 19 points and five assists per game last season, as well as 50 percent of three-point shots made.
This year's edition of the Santa Clara women's basketball team will be led by a quartet of seniors who have a chance to become the first senior class in Bronco history to advance to four straight postseasons. They are center Annie Garrison, forward Jennifer Glysson and guards Kristin Franklin and Kim Sorenson.
Garrison has had a phenomenal impact on the program. A two-time unanimous All-WCC performer, Garrison will be the team's captain for the second straight year. Denker describes her to be one of the most unselfish players on the team.
"Even in times when we maybe really needed her to be a scorer," Denker said, "she was always willing to take a backseat and play defense or rebound, do whatever was best for the team."
Garrison made her mark in Santa Clara's recordbooks early, setting the career total for shots blocked during her sophomore season. She enters her senior year with 160 total blocks, almost double second-place Christine Rigby's 83 blocks from 1996-98. Garrison could possibly finish her career as one of the all-time best field goal percentage shooters and rebounders in Santa Clara annals. And entering the season with 785 points, could become only the 12th Bronco all time to surpass the 1,000-point mark.
A leader off the court as well, Garrison carries a 3.74 in mathematics and is a pre-season favorite for All-Academic honors.
At the post, Glysson plays hard and competes every game, bringing many intangibles to the floor, such as desire and determination. Last year, she raised the bar on what she could do and earned honorable mention All-WCC honors. Last season, she had some of her biggest games against some of the team's toughest opponents, including a double-double against then-ranked George Washington.
"She's got nothing but positive energy out of her all of the time," Denker said. "If we can get people to play like her on a consistent basis, we're going to be in good shape."
Listed as a guard, Franklin can and has played three different positions for the Broncos. A player that can see things on the floor offensively and defensively, she can change the course of a game. Injuries have slowed her down in past seasons, but Franklin has spent the off season in the weight room and is on pace to start the season healthy.
Sorenson has made great strides in the weight room during the off season and is conditioned and able to play a full season at her highest level. After a great freshman campaign that saw her shoot for 61 percent from the three-point line, her numbers dropped off even though she made good strides on the defensive side of the ball. Now, Denker is looking for Sorenson to combine her versatility to defend with her shooting ability so that the team can benefit with her at multiple positions.
"In all, the four are excited about the season and the prospects of their senior year," Denker said. "They're very conscious that this is it for them on a collegiate level."
Santa Clara will be led by junior Becki Ashbaugh at the point. She has started every game of her career and is a proven leader on the court. An All-WCC selection last year and the conference's Freshman of the Year two seasons ago, Ashbaugh is thought to be one of the better point guards on the West Coast.
"Both as a team and individually, Becki has a lot of pride in Santa Clara," Denker said. "She's a Bronco at heart and kind of wears that on her sleeve out on the floor and I like that about her. She is a tough, hard-headed, competitive girl."
Backing up the point, but also a legitimate player on the wing is junior Caroline Gruening. A former walk on that is now on scholarship, she possesses an excellent shot and is a relied-upon defender. In fact, Denker warns that she is just the person to jump into a game and shut an opponent down.
"She's also the hardest worker on our team away from practice," Denker said, admiring her effort. "In terms of the time spent in the gym, lifting weights and running, she sets the standard."
With the graduation of Pursley and Rogers, Denker lost both starters at the wing positions. A few injuries and some unproven talent combine to create one of Denker's biggest concerns on the court. As seniors, Franklin and Sorenson bring more experience to the court. Franklin can and will play three different positions for the Broncos heading into conference season, but will see limited playing time as she heals from off-season knee surgery. Sorenson is just as versatile as her senior counterpart, and is one of the team's better shooters.
Sophomore Jennifer Bradley will be looked upon for "big things," Denker said, but will be limited at the onset of the season while a foot injury from last year continues to heal.
Freshmen Megan Nelson and Alex Gientke join the backcourt mix this season. From South Eugene High School in Oregon, Nelson is a 5-10 guard recovering from an ACL tear she suffered in November while playing soccer. An All-State player, Nelson is used to winning, as her team was ranked 14th during last season by USA Today. From Ventura High School in Southern California, Gientke was named Player of the Year in a solid area of basketball talent. Described as having a good head for the game, Denker also adds that her three-point shooting ability will give Santa Clara greater depth.
"In our new players, we increased our perimeter size and our athleticism," Denker said.
The Broncos have led the West Coast Conference in scoring and assists the last three years and field goal percentage the last four, so it will continue to look for such consistent play. Denker knows he has a corps of capable shooters, he just needs to make sure he gets something from them.
"Lastly," he said, "Somebody out of this group is going to have to be consistent defenders because in this league, there's a lot of good perimeter players and somebody is going to have to defend for us and give us something off the bench there at the guard spots."
Santa Clara will be led by senior Annie Garrison, a two-time All-WCC first team selection and an All-Academic league honoree. She led the conference in blocked shots and was second in field goal percentage. She was also sixth in the league in rebounding and 11th in scoring.
"However," Denker describes, "within all that, she still maintains a team focus and is very unselfish. She's worked hard in the weight room over the summer so that she'll be healthy and in good shape for a long season of playing. She's get beat on a little beat and when teams double team her in the post, and she needs to have a body to be able to hold up to it. We're looking for really good things from her."
Other returning starters include Glysson and junior Tammy Annas, both explosive players who will be valuable contributors to this year's squad.
A trio of sophomores in Julie Butler, Kendra Rhea and Courtney Cushing will add depth to the Bronco frontcourt. Butler has added a couple of moves to her arsenal in the offseason and should see a lot of playing time. Rhea is defensively tough and unselfish, seen in the number of charges she took last season. Denker said the energy she will provide a scoring punch late in a game. Cushing won one volleyball and two basketball state championships in high school. Denker hopes her strong post shots as well as her leadership from those prep squads will carry over to the collegiate level.
Freshman Jennie Rondel is the lone newcomer to the frontcourt, arriving from a very successful Washington program. Once she finds a role to settle into, she should make great strides in the collegiate game.
"I've seen her grab the rim," Denker said of his new recruit. "She can really jump. She should help us in particular on the defensive end of the court, because we're now taller and quicker, and we can cover more ground.
"These players play well together," Denker said. "They're fun to watch, too. Our style of play is running the floor and scoring points, so it makes it enjoyable for fans. Our crowds will continue to grow as they hear about the special group we have here."
Leavey Event Center
As the seniors close out their collegiate careers and the freshmen begin theirs, the entire team will benefit from the reconstructed Leavey Event Center. Popularly known as Harold J. Toso Pavilion, Leavey will be one of the best venues on the West Coast. Santa Clara's loud, supportive fans will only turn up the volume once they see the new floor, a new digital scoreboard and new chairback seating.
"It's first class and it looks like a big-time arena when you drive by it," Denker said. "We're excited to play in it. Recruits are going to want to play in it. It's a great place to call home."
Santa Clara traditionally tests itself against the better teams in the country, and this year's team is no exception. Denker and his staff have scheduled a tough slate of opponents for the 2000-01 season.
Locally, the team plays Pacific and Stanford, but the highlight of the Bay Area portion of the schedule will be a trip to Berkeley to visit the Bears and their new head coach Caren Horstmeyer. Horstmeyer, a four-time letterwinner for the Broncos in the early 1980s, was Santa Clara's head coach for the past 12 seasons.
Also on the schedule is a trip to Portland, to play Pac-10 power Oregon in the Rose Garden, the home of the Portland Trailblazers. Right after Christmas, Maryland and Texas Tech will visit Santa Clara.
In league action, the West Coast Conference is not alternating home and road games this season, so for the first time ever, Santa Clara will host a three-game home stand in late January against Portland, Gonzaga and San Diego, and then travel for three consecutive WCC contests at San Diego, Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine. For the last two seasons, the WCC has sent half its conference--four teams-- to the postseason. Just as tough this year, the league is looking for another strong March presence.
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Year in and year out, the Broncos aim for a West Coast Conference Championship and a berth in the NCAA Tournament. But Denker is adding more goals for this year's squad. He wants to see his team improve each and every game. Win the conference championship. Be ranked in the national polls early and stay ranked through the season.
"We want to make some national noise," he concluded. "We want to do something spectacular, not just go to the NCAA Tournament, but advance deep into that tournament. We want to have a season that we can all be proud of and see how our hard work has paid off."