Women Hoopsters Welcome Newcomers

The Washington Husky Women's Basketball team introduced five new members today at a freshman press conference in Hec Edmundson Pavilion. The new faces include three scholarship players, and two walk-ons.

Of the newcomers, four are guards: Kristen O'Neill (scholarship), Kayla Burt (scholarship), Sara Best (walk-on), and Alicia Heathcote (walk-on). The other new face is Kirsten Brockman (scholarship), a six-footer capable of playing either power forward or center.

The 6-1 O'Neill may be the gem of the class. She's the younger sister of current Husky forward Kellie O'Neill, and hails from Meadowdale High School in Edmonds. As a senior at Meadowdale she was named Gatorade State Player of the Year in Washington, and was rated as the state's top recruit. She chose the Huskies over a host of top flight programs, including Stanford, Notre Dame, Arizona State, and Texas.

"Kristen is a tremendous defender, a great playmaker, and has an awesome overall floor game," said Head Coach June Daugherty.

Though she stands an inch taller than her older sister, Kristen says she plays with more finesse and figures to play point guard for Washington. She'll team with the Mendiola sisters, Giuliana and Gioconda, both sophomores, to make for an extremely young backcourt.

The 5-11 Burt comes to Montlake from Arlington, Washington, where she had a career scoring average of 20.9 in her years at Arlington High School. She was ranked number 94 among the top 750 seniors in the class of 2001 by All-Star Girls Report. Her top game as a senior came against Anacortes, where she poured in 45 points, had 12 rebounds, 11 steals, and dished out five assists.

"Kayla is a long-range threat and has a good medium range game," Daugherty said. "She is one of those players who has no fear, and takes great pride in her defensive game."

Burt likes to run and will likely play the off-guard position for the Huskies, taking over for spot vacated by Megan Franza, the school's 6th all-time leading scorer. She'll have a tall task replacing Franza, but should fit in just fine in the high-powered backcourt. Burt played point guard in high school, so she knows how to handle the ball. The 18-year-old with long blonde hair says she won't hesitate to push the ball up court.

"If I get the board, then I'm going to go," she said with a smile.

Coach Daugherty said that all of the guards have the okay to push the ball up court if necessary. With versatile athletes now all over the roster, the team could look to run more than in previous years.

The wildcard in this year's class is Kirsten Brockman, who missed her senior season at Snohomish High School with a severe injury to her left knee. She didn't return to the court until this April, but now considers herself fully recovered. She'll be asked to be a presence in the middle this season with the loss of LeAnne Sheets, a rebound machine last season, to graduation.

Brockman knows that she'll be looked upon to be a tough rebounder and will have to play big inside the paint. She wouldn't want it any other way.

"My favorite thing to do is to mix it up inside," she said. "I like to push people around."

Daugherty likes what she sees in the freshman from Snohomish.

"Kirsten is one of the best athletic, big post players to ever come out of the state of Washington. Physically she is very strong and mobile. She is someone who is going to be a substantial presence inside because of her physical strength, and she's a tough, hard-nosed rebounder."

All three scholarship players came to Washington with high recruiting attention, and could have went to many other schools. But they all put their trust in the coaching staff and the direction of the program when committing early last fall.

Daugherty can't help but feel relieved to have the trio of Kristen, Kayla, and Kirsten - who are already referring to themselves as "K-to-the-third" - wearing purple and gold.

"Our state was one of the best - if not the best - in the country talent-wise last year," the head coach said. "It was great that the staff was able to keep these kids at home."

The two walk-on players, Best and Heathcote, are each transfers from other schools.

Best, a 5-6 product of Inglemoor High School in Redmond, went to the University of Idaho for a year and played soccer and basketball. She had to sit out a season after to transferring to Washington last year, and will be a redshirt sophomore this year.

Heathcote stands 5-9, and played at North Seattle Community College for two years before coming to the UW. She'll be a junior this season.

Daugherty has high regard for both of the walk-ons, and says it wasn't easy for them to get make the team.

"Both had to go through a tough conditioning test and passed with flying colors," she said.

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