Oct. 14, 2004
TEMPE, Ariz. - It's hard for ninth-year Arizona State head coach Charli Turner Thorne to hide her smile when she thinks about her 2004-05 team.
Especially when she considers that she will have a roster of veteran players for the first time in three seasons. And even more so when she remembers her last two veteran teams were responsible for back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances, a share of Arizona State's first ever Pac-10 title in 2001 and the 2002 Pac-10 Tournament title.
With all five of her starters and 11 letterwinners returning from last year's team, including a class of four seniors, it's not hard to start to feel some of her excitement.
"At Arizona State, we are certainly excited to be a veteran team again," said Turner Thorne who needs just 11 more wins to become the all-time winningest coach in ASU history. "After going through back-to-back young and injury-affected years, it's going to be great to have a veteran, mature team with more than one senior."
Despite the injuries and challenges her team has faced in the last few seasons, the Sun Devils are eager to pick up where they left off last season when the team won 17 games, tied the school record for home victories for the third straight year (13-1 in 2003-04) and finished in the upper half of the Pac-10 Conference for the third time in five years. Arizona State also looks to continue a trend that has seen the team earn a school-record five consecutive postseason appearances, including a trip to the Women's National Invitation Tournament last year.
Leading the charge for the Sun Devils will be the team's four senior guards: Betsy Boardman, Carrie Buckner, Kylan Loney and Lauren Stagg. That group has a combined 363 games of experience, including 244 starts, to their credit, and all four look to end their careers on a high note. Joining them will be a talented group of four juniors, four sophomores and two freshmen who have everyone in Tempe excited about what they will be able to accomplish this season.
"We have a core group of four seniors that is going to lead us through a challenging but very exciting season. All of our veterans know what it takes to win at the highest level. It's going to be fun to have that kind of experience on the floor this year," Turner Thorne said. "Because of the injuries we've had over the last couple of years, we've had young players who have played in a lot of games and been in pressure situations that many players don't face until they are upperclassmen. I've always said that is going to be for the betterment of our players' careers and Arizona State women's basketball, and I think we are going to see the fruits of that this year. I feel like we've grown in a lot of ways and are certainly ready to be one of the best teams in the Pac-10 Conference and therefore the nation."
The Sun Devils will get the chance to begin their quest to be one of the best teams in the Pac-10 and return to the national spotlight very early in the season. ASU will take on eight teams that advanced to the NCAA Tournament last year, including a home date against three-time defending national champion Connecticut.
Arizona State opens the 2004-05 schedule on the road with a trip to Baton Rouge, La., for the Women's Sports Foundation Classic where the team will take on perennial NCAA qualifier Virginia and either 2004 Final Four participant LSU or NCAA qualifier Maine. The Sun Devils will also travel to Athens, Ga., to take on Georgia, which went to the NCAA Elite Eight last season, and to "The Pit " in Albuquerque, N.M., where the Lobos, who advanced to the NCAA Tournament last year, average more than 11,000 fans and have won over 81 percent of their games over the last nine seasons.
The crown jewel of ASU's preseason schedule is a Dec. 21 match-up with three-time NCAA champion Connecticut on Dec. 21 at Wells Fargo Arena. The contest against the Huskies will be ASU's Hoops for the Cause game, marking the third time that the Sun Devils have staged a game to raise awareness about health issues.
"We have lined up a very challenging and exciting preseason schedule with trips to LSU, Georgia, San Antonio and New Mexico and a home game with Connecticut that is going to prepare us for anything and everything the Pac-10 will bring. We feel we've designed a schedule that will toughen us up and prepare us in every which way to win another Pac-10 championship," Turner Thorne said.
ASU opens the 18th season of Pac-10 Conference play on the road, traveling to Washington and Washington State in the last week of December before returning home for three straight games against Stanford, California and Arizona. Oregon State and Oregon make stops at Wells Fargo Arena in January, while USC, UCLA, Washington and Washington State visit Tempe in February.
The fourth annual State Farm Pac-10 Conference Tournament gets underway March 4-7 at HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif.
"We are anticipating a tremendous Pac-10 season for everyone in the conference," Turner Thorne said. "We were still a young conference last year. I look for the Pac-10 to be a veteran conference with tremendous postseason success this season."
March Madness will once against come to Tempe this spring with Arizona State playing host to the Tempe Regional of the 2005 NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship on March 26 and 28 at Wells Fargo Arena.
The Sun Devils do not have any seniors in the frontcourt, but that shouldn't worry anyone as the team returns two juniors who have started in each of their first two seasons and a crop of athletic, versatile posts who are poised to make even more of an impact.
Leading the Arizona State frontcourt will be junior Kristen Kovesdy, a strong, versatile post who has earned a starting role in each of her first two seasons in Tempe. An honorable-mention All-Pac-10 selection last season, she led the team in field goal percentage and rebounding for the second straight year. Kovesdy finished second in the Pac-10 in field goal percentage, knocking down 55.7 percent of her shots, and led the team in scoring in Pac-10 games at 11.0 points per league contest. She also paced the Pac-10 in field goal percentage in league play at 58.9 percent. Kovesdy should make an even greater contribution as she gains upper-class status and continues to become more aggressive and confident.
"Kristen's combination of strength, size and skill make her an unbelievable threat." Turner Thorne said. "She is great at running the floor, rebounding and playing defense and has had the advantage of playing right away as a freshman and sophomore. Kristen has invaluable experience as a junior that we are really excited to take advantage of this year. I look for Kristen to become the best low-block player in the conference. She needs to maintain her confidence and utilize the skills she's worked hard to refine in the off-season."
Amy Denson also returns for her junior season after making a major impact in each of her first two years. A fiery competitor who can play inside and out, Denson started 20 games last season and finished second on the team in rebounding at 4.7 boards per game. An honorable-mention Pac-10 All-Academic honoree with 49 career starts to her credit, she led the team in rebounding in Pac-10 play and earned the Coach's Award at the last year's season-end banquet. Denson continues to improve her already well-refined basketball skills, and that only bodes well for her as she enters her junior campaign.
"Amy is a tremendously skilled and versatile post who has already played a significant role in her first two seasons, yet her contributions will be even more important and significant as she gains upper-class status," Turner Thorne said. "Now I really feel that Amy Denson has got it figured out. She has really learned how to use her tremendous scoring ability and competitive fire to help us win games and be successful. When Amy sets her mind to something, she gets it done, and this year should be no exception for her."
Also poised to turn in her finest season yet is junior Jenny Thigpin, a versatile and highly skilled post who has made major strides in each of her first two seasons. Last year, Thigpin won the team's Most Improved Player award and averaged 3.9 points and 2.3 rebounds per game. She knocked down 56.0 percent of her field goal attempts and has made over 52 percent of her career attempts from the field. Thigpin led the team in scoring three times last year and had the breakout game of her career with 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting to lead ASU to its upset of seventh-ranked Stanford.
"Jenny really had a solid sophomore campaign, and we are counting on her to provide a lot of rebounding and continue to be a strong presence inside in terms of scoring and defense this year," Turner Thorne said. "We are really excited about Jenny's ability to have an awesome junior season. She is a great passer, and we need to utilize that more. She has worked so hard on her strength and conditioning. That's a testament to her commitment to be the best. Jenny has worked very hard on the things she most needed to work on."
Johnson returns for her sophomore season looking to make an even bigger contribution as she strives to be more aggressive. Johnson averaged 3.6 points and 3.3 rebounds per game last season. She established herself as one of the top rebounders on the club, leading the team in the category five times last season, including a stretch of 8.3 boards per game in the non-conference schedule. A smart and versatile player with a nice shooting touch, Johnson has worked hard in the off-season to have an even better sophomore campaign.
"Aubree had a tremendous freshman year. She is a great rebounder and runs the floor as well as anyone on the team. She also learned our system quicker than anybody. Now in her second year, I think we need to take even more advantage of the things that Aubree can give us," Turner Thorne said. "Aubree has earned the nickname Crunch-Time in this off-season for her ability to hit game-winners during open gym. She just needs to stop being shy. We are really going to push her this year to be more aggressive with her shot and make everybody guard her. We want Aubree to maximize all of her talents."
Westerberg made a splash on the Pac-10 scene in her freshman year last season, earning first-team Pac-10 All-Freshman honors. A versatile and skilled player who can and did play inside and out for ASU, she was the team's leading scorer off the bench last year at 6.2 points per game and earned five starts. Westerberg was third on the team in three-pointers made last year. An aggressive player who uses her quickness to make the most of mismatches, Westerberg has worked hard to build on the success of her rookie year heading into her sophomore season.
"Emily had an excellent freshman year. In part with the loss of Jill Noe, Emily stepped in and provided us a little of everything - offense, defense and rebounding. It was amazing that Emily did everything she did and learned two positions as a freshman," Turner Thorne said. "As a sophomore, we are looking for Emily to build on her freshman season. We want her to be a scorer and continue to develop as one of our top defenders and a relentless rebounder. Emily is a joy to coach because of her enthusiasm and endless energy on the court."
In the backcourt, Arizona State has a great mix of experience and talented youth with seven returning players and two very talented newcomers. All four of ASU's seniors play in the backcourt and look to end their careers on a high note. With that kind of maturity and leadership to go along with the talent the Sun Devils have, there is no limit to what this group will be able to accomplish this year.
Headlining the returning players in the backcourt is senior point guard Kylan Loney, a three-year starter who has stepped up her game each season. She earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors last season after leading the team in assists, three-point shooting and free throw percentage. Loney, who has started all 93 games over the last three seasons, finished second on the team in scoring at 10.2 points per game and ranked 10th in the Pac-10 with 3.0 assists per game. The team's best three-point shooter, she was sixth in the Pac-10 in three-point percentage at 37.8 percent. A two-time Pac-10 All-Academic selection, Loney has already etched her name in the ASU record books and has a chance to finish in the top five on ASU's career lists for three-pointers and assists in her final season. In addition to her accolades and statistics, what has continued to impress the coaches is her improvement in decision-making and leadership each year that Loney has been in the program, and her senior year should be no exception.
"Kylan is possibly the hardest working player I've ever coached. I really respect her passion and commitment to get better every year," Turner Thorne said. "While she has already had a great career, I expect Kylan's senior season to be her best ever. She has worked very hard at becoming a great creator. She has always been a strong defender and a great scorer, but she has worked hard to add rebounding and that creating component. I couldn't be more proud of how Kylan has matured and grown and how hard she has worked on every aspect of her game. That's why she has been a starter her whole career. No one has ever outworked her."
If there were such a thing as a franchise player in college basketball, it would be fifth-year senior guard/forward Betsy Boardman. A two-year team captain and academic all-league selection, Boardman has played in and started 91 career games and led the team in scoring at 10.6 points per game last year. A complete player who brings great skills, maturity and leadership to the court, Boardman, who has already earned her bachelor's degree in communication, is completely recovered from two ACL tears in 18 months, including the second in the last week of the regular season last year. Like Loney, Boardman has already made her mark in the Sun Devil career record books and has a chance to finish near the top for three-point shooting and steals. She also heads into her senior season needing just 57 points to become the 14th player in school history to score 1,000 points in her career. With her skills and the intangibles she has gained from her four years in the program, Boardman is poised to have her best season yet and lead the Sun Devils to new heights in her final year in Tempe.
"Betsy epitomizes Sun Devil basketball. She is so smart and hard-working. She just finds a way to get it done," Turner Thorne said. "Betsy was a tough player and a good leader before her two ACL tears, but having gone through that adversity has only served to make her stronger and appreciate even more the blessing of being out on the floor. I am looking for Betsy to be a strong leader and really provide us even more leadership as she plays in her last season. She has been a great scorer and rebounder and a versatile player, but we may even be able to use her in different ways than in the past."
If Boardman is the team's franchise player, senior Carrie Buckner would be the unsung hero. A strong, disciplined player who has emerged as a team leader and was a team captain last year, Buckner has spent her career doing the little things that make a team great. An explosive player who is a relentless rebounder and defender, she has worked hard to become a more complete player throughout her career. Last season, she averaged 7.0 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. She led the team and finished eighth in the Pac-10 with 1.9 steals per game and was second on the team with 2.6 assists per game. She had the best assist-to-turnover ratio on the team (1.7) and would have ranked fourth in the league in the category but fell just short of the assist-per-game minimum. Buckner heads into her senior season needing just one steal to enter ASU's career top 10 in the category.
"Carrie has truly been one of the most consistent and disciplined players in our program throughout her career. She is undoubtedly going to lead us to great success in her final season," Turner Thorne said. "While Carrie has always been a defensive star, she does so many things that never show up in the stats. She has always been one of our best rebounders and truly understands what it takes to be a champion. Carrie is so conscientious. She is just so solid inside and out - as a person and a player."
Rounding out ASU's senior class is Lauren Stagg, a tall and versatile guard who can play all three positions in the backcourt. An excellent passer with great court vision, she averaged 1.3 points, 1.2 rebounds and one assist per game last year. She dished out a career-best six assists (with only one turnover) in ASU's home win over California and scored a season-high six points on two occasions. A 2004 honorable-mention Pac-10 All-Academic selection, she brings a wealth of experience and maturity to the court, and combined with the hard work she has put in to improve her game, Stagg should make an even greater contribution in her final season at ASU.
"I am absolutely positive that while Lauren has contributed a lot to the team in her first three years, this will be her best season yet," Turner Thorne said. "The thing that is nice about Lauren is that she can play three different positions. She is definitely a point guard with excellent passing skills and a great feel for the game, but she can also play the 2 or the 3 and help us with our offensive flow. Her size also allows her to play defense at the 3 or 4. We're really excited about trying to get the most out of Lauren's versatility and maturity in her senior year. Lauren knows what it takes to win in this conference and at the highest level."
The lone junior in ASU's backcourt is YoVanna Rosenthal, a quick, aggressive player who has worked hard to become more consistent. A defensive dynamo who has the ability to make a lot happen in a short time, she made tremendous strides between her freshman and sophomore years, more than doubling her scoring and tripling her assists total between the two seasons. Last year, Rosenthal averaged 3.6 points and 1.4 assists per game to go along with her 32 steals (third on the team). She showed her improved offensive game from the beginning of the preseason, averaging 7.4 points per game in the non-conference season last year, including a career-best 14 points against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. According to Turner Thorne, Rosenthal's continued growth, experience and maturity should help her make an even bigger contribution as an upperclassmen.
"YoVanna is an amazing, explosive, hard-working player. We really want to use her scoring, her ability to create shots for others and her defense. Her growth and maturity will continue to help us become more of a full-court team on both ends of the floor," Turner Thorne said. "YoVanna has really worked hard on refining her fundamentals and becoming more consistent in all aspects of her game. She should be ready to step up and provide a lot for this team as a junior."
Sophomore Alisha Godette should also make more of a contribution for the Sun Devils in 2004-05 as she becomes more comfortable and confident. An explosive and highly skilled player, Godette showed flashes of her ability to take over games on both ends of the floor last year. She was the second-leading scorer off the bench at 4.4 points and added 2.4 rebounds per game. Godette made her presence felt in her collegiate debut with a career-best 16 points and eight rebounds in ASU's season-opener with Akron last year. She also had seven of her nine points in the second half of ASU's come-from-behind victory at Oregon last year, including the game-tying three-point with under two minutes to play. Godette spent her first season learning the nuances of college basketball and improved as the year went along. With that year of experience behind her, Godette should be ready to be a dominant player as a sophomore.
"Alisha came up big for us in several games last year and yet had a lot of adjustments to do as a first-year player. Everybody had better look out this year because Alisha is comfortable now with her transition to college, college basketball and our system," Turner Thorne said. "It is very exciting for her to be able to utilize all of her talents even more so this year. Alisha has the potential to be a go-to player who can also take over a game with her defense."
ASU's Purple Heart award would go to sophomore Jill Noe, a 2003 Pac-10 All-Freshman selection who missed all of last year after tearing her ACL in preseason workouts. After rehabbing the injury, Noe had the misfortune of re-injuring the same knee with her second ACL tear in eight months in June and will miss at least the first part of the 2004-05 season. As with many setbacks, there is a silver lining for Noe who is one of the most driven and motivated player on the team and led the team in scoring and three-point shooting as a true freshman. According to Turner Thorne, Noe continues to gain a wealth of basketball knowledge and maturity that will no doubt serve the dynamic, athletic sophomore and the team very well when she is able to return to the court.
"Heart-breaking doesn't quite describe our feelings about the second setback Jill has had. We certainly know there is a chance she will play this year, but we are going to take it one day and one week at a time to help Jill become a better basketball player while she rehabs her knee," Turner Thorne said. "It's tough for all of us because we know how much Jill brings to the table. She has great skills, athleticism and ability to just make the play. We were excited to have that back, but if we don't, we are going to work as hard as we can to maximize the time we have with Jill. I have no doubt that the maturity, leadership and basketball intelligence that Jill can gain from her injury time is only going to help her become one of the best Sun Devils ever."
While the 2004-05 season will be Johnson's first year on the court for the Sun Devils, she is already a household name to Sun Devil fans after winning NCAA and Pac-10 championships in the heptathlon as a member of ASU's track and field squad last year. The 2004 Pac-10 Track and Field Newcomer of the Year, Johnson came to ASU from Yuma High School where she finished her prep career as one of the most decorated athletes in Arizona high school history. An all-region selection and Metro Region MVP in basketball, she averaged over 17 points and eight rebounds per game in her last two seasons on the court to go along with 14 career state titles in track and field. There is little doubt in Turner Thorne's mind that Johnson will make a big impact on the court for the Sun Devils with her athleticism, determination and championship mentality.
"Jackie is a winner. I don't care if she hasn't picked up a basketball in a year. She is a young lady who has the talent, drive and passion to be the best and will definitely help us this year," Turner Thorne said. "She has a sweet jump shot and is a good rebounder and defender. It's so exciting to have a player who is such a proven winner. Jackie is a woman who doesn't know the word can't. She is a champion."
Pariseau comes to Tempe from Spokane, Wash., where she was a high school teammate of sophomore Emily Westerberg at Central Valley High School and an AAU teammate of both Westerberg and sophomore Aubree Johnson. A talented young point guard who has great mental toughness and court awareness, Pariseau was the MVP of the Greater Spokane League last year after leading the conference in scoring at 17.3 points per game. An all-state selection and a McDonald's All-America nominee, she is adept at creating shots for her teammates, especially in transition, and averaged 4.8 assists per game as a senior. According to Turner Thorne, Pariseau will be the next in the long line of Sun Devils who have made major contributions in their freshmen years. Pariseau will compete with Loney at the point guard position but also allow Loney, one of the team's top shooters, more freedom to move to shooting guard at times.
"I really look to Reagan to be able to have an impact right away. Her intangibles are exceptional. She is tough and savvy and really knows how to get a team into transition. She knows how to run," Turner Thorne said. "What Reagan may give up in height, she more than makes up for it in heart, talent and skill. She has the tenacity of a champion."