For Coug women, all eyes on upper-tier finish

PULLMAN – A renewed team chemistry, a quicker Tia Presley, and an inspired Lia Galdeira are all on tap for the 2013-14 Cougar women's basketball season. The team is healthy, confident and ready to turn some heads this season, says head coach June Daugherty.

A summer trip to Europe has proved a kick-starter for the season, say all three. In August, the Cougs traveled to Austria, Slovakia and Czech Republic and swept the slate.

"We came closer as a team, we had a huge bond and we played very well. It was just a fun experience, and we won all four games," said Galdeira, a standout guard from Kamuela, Hawaii.

Daugherty dubbed the trip nothing less than "phenomenal."

"It allowed us to have ten extra practices and then four games in Europe against some very good competition," Daugherty said in a recent interview with Cougfan.com. "Not only was the competition good but I think we came out of it knowing that our system works against some very, very good players worldwide, globally, and I think we gained an enormous amount of confidence with four wins in six days."

Part of that system that worked so well overseas was more pressing -- pressing that will carry on through this season, and require a deeper rotation, Daugherty said. She noted that it won't be uncommon to see up to ten players getting court time in a game.

"The thing about us this year at Washington State, all six of those freshman from last year are all sophomores, very talented players but they're a year older and way more experienced. I think we can go a lot deeper this year into our bench because of that, I think our three seniors have done a great job of improving as well as the rest of our underclassmen," said Daugherty, who is entering her seventh season at WSU.

Among those six sophomores is Galdeira, who had a spectacular college debut last season. She was the second-leading freshman scorer in the country at 14.8 per game and earned All-Pac-12 honorable mention honors. She led the conference in steals with an average of 2.8 per game.

But that could be just a sampling of what she's capable of doing.

Daugherty said Galdeira's tryout in May for the USA under-19 national team was an eye-opening motivator for the 5-11 guard.


LIA GALDEIRA

"The fact that she was one of very few people selected for the under-19 USA basketball tryouts, that experience for her in Colorado Springs was priceless. I think she learned a lot about what it takes to play at the very highest level, which is Olympic level. She had a great opportunity to play with other Olympians on the USA team and she's come back with a renewed motivation to be in better shape and be more skilled.

"She's a lot stronger than what she was a year ago," Daugherty added.

A question mark coming into the year was the health of junior guard Tia Presley, who tore her ACL against Oregon last season and missed the final 11 games. Presley recently told Cougfan.com she's back at 100 percent – a claim she backed up by leading all scorers, with 18 points, in WSU's exhibition win last week against The Master's College.

"The coaches have done a really good job with me, making sure that my body feels healthy and that I'm not overdoing anything," Presley said. "If I need to back off then I back off, but I've gotten back in shape and everything feels good right now.

"I think I've improved a lot. Coming off the knee injury I was able to work a lot of stuff like on my body, getting quicker and faster and think that'll really help me improve my game this year."

Daugherty said she is impressed with how Presley recovered physically, but also mentally.

"Presley has done a phenomenal job coming off an ACL injury two months ahead of schedule. It all started with her attitude, she came out as ‘hey this isn't going to stop me, I'm going to come back better than ever' and her work ethic has been unbelievable.," the coach said. "She's quicker than what she used to be and that's a credit to all the extra work that she's done with strength and conditioning.

"A lot of it's a mindset for her, this kid is a tremendous competitor who really knew it was up to her how well she was going to come off this and how quickly. I'm just proud of her being back out here and she's playing with a lot of confidence."

CONFIDENCE OF THE TEAM VARIETY also is a recurring theme with this year's club. The CouGals finished 8th in the conference last season (up from 11th) by going 11-20 overall and 6-12 in conference play, and believe they're ready for the next big step.

"I think our team, talent-wise, we are top of the pack. If we can all just get on the same page and use our talents in a positive way then I think we'll match up really well against everyone in the league," said Presley.

In addition to Presley and Galdiera, one of the key pieces of the puzzle for the Cougars this season will be 6-1 senior guard-forward Sage Romberg, who comes into the campaign with 67 career starts on her resume. Last year she was third on the team in scoring (6.1 per game) and blocked shots (20), and second in rebounding (4.4 per game). She also tallied 31 assists and 20 steals.

"We have an opportunity to be right there in the top four in this conference. I think if we can stay healthy and continue to improve each day as a team then we can beat anybody any night," Daugherty said.

A top four finish would get the Cougs to the post-season for the first time since Harold Rhodes led the charge to the NCAA Tourney in 1991. Last season the Pac-12 sent five teams to the post-season: Stanford, Cal and UCLA to March Madness; Utah and Washington to the WNIT.

"Last year we had great highs (such as a comeback road victory over Gonzaga) but we didn't maintain that level," said Daugherty. "So to get us to play at the highest level and maintain it, if we do that, it could be an unbelievable year, an unbelievably successful year, a year that every fan in the Northwest is going to want to be a part of."

She said fan support at Beasley is critical.

"Our ZZUCRU, the people in the community, Spokane, Lewiston, the people in Moscow that come out, they help us get super energized. We want to play for our fans and we want to play hard and they definitely give us that sixth man advantage," she said.

NOTABLE NOTES:

  • In the exhibition game last week, 10 of the 11 players on the Cougs played at least 15 minutes, with six logging 20 or more. The only person in single digits was the team's lone freshman, 6-3 forward Ivana Kmetovska of Macedonia.

  • The Cougs lose four players from last season: guards Katie Grad and Ireti Amojo and center Carly Noyes, who all graduated, and lightly used guard Jordan Kelley, who left the program. Noyes and Amojo are now playing professionally in Germany. The loss of the 6-5 Noyes, a record-setting shot-blocker, is especially notable. Six-four Junior Shalie Dheensaw of Victoria, British Columbia, is expected to fill the bulk of Noyes' minutes. Last season Dheensaw blocked 25 shots and averaged 2.7 points and 3.2 rebounds per game.

  • Last month in a vote of Pac-12 coaches, Stanford was picked overwhelmingly to win the conference title. Cal was the only other team to receive a first-place vote. WSU was picked ninth, just behind Oregon State and Utah, and well ahead of Arizona State, Arizona and Oregon.

  • The Cougars open the regular-season at Beasley on Sunday against Syracuse. Tipoff is set for 1 p.m., with live streaming at wsucougars.com. The Orange earned a trip to the NCAA Tourney last season.

  • Following Syracuse, the Cougars will hit the road for the first of three trips to Seattle this season. They're take on Seattle U on Tuesday, Nov. 12 (7 p.m. tip), and return to the Emerald City on Jan. 11 to battle the Huskies, and on March 6 for the start of the Pac-12 Tournament. In a strange bit of scheduling, the Cougars and Huskies will play back-to-back this season; the first match up will be Jan. 7 in Pullman.

  • After Seattle U, the Cougs will jet to Hawaii for the Rainbow Wahine Classic, Nov. 15-17, to take on Hawaii, West Virginia and Ole Miss.

  • Galdeira is a multi-dimensional talent who's not afraid to tangle under the rim. So it's perhaps no surprise she wanted to play on the football team her freshman year at Konawaena High. The powers that be, however, set up a veritable moving screen to block her.

    THE COUGARS FEATURE THREE SENIORS (left to right): SAGE ROMBURG, HANA POTTER AND BRANDI THOMAS


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