Returning essentially their starting lineup and nearly three-fourths of their offensive production from a season ago, the Wildcats look to make big strides in the Northwest Conference, one of the most competitive and high-achieving leagues in all NCAA Division III.
Fourth-year head coach Robin Potera-Haskins returns some experience with six letterwinners making up the core of the roster, but must also quickly bring up to speed an equally large group of newcomers in order to find success.
Katelyn Henson and Kaely Maltman, who combined for 23.7 points per night en route to all-league honors in 2012-13, provide a solid one-two scoring punch as well as leadership for a young but increasingly talented Linfield squad.
Henson, a second team honoree, averaged nearly a double-double as the team leader in both points (11.9) and rebounds (8.3). The versatile 5-foot-11 guard-forward also led the Wildcats in blocks (18) and steals (33) while shooting 36.2 from the field a season ago.
“Katelyn has shown a relentless desire to improve and excel in every area of her game,” Potera-Haskins raves. “She is poised for greatness this season.”
Boasting career averages of 12.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, Maltman shows no signs of slowing down entering her senior season at Linfield. In addition to a tremendous shooting accuracy – her 51.6 conversion rate ranked second in the league last year – Maltman also is adept at initiating contact and getting to the line, earning 153 free-throw opportunities in 2012-13.
A second-generation Wildcat, the 5-foot-10 forward and returning all-league honorable mention is easily one of the hardest workers on the team, and that commitment to maximizing her potential could result in her most productive season yet.
“This is the start of my 27th year of coaching, and Kaely is in my all-time Hall of Fame,” Potera-Haskins said. “She has a relentless work ethic and gives 110 percent all the time while constantly being an encouragement to her teammates.”
Returning guards Taylor Solomon and Catie Mets drive the offense. The two combined for 11.6 points per game last season, with Solomon knocking down a team-high 22 long-range buckets and Mets converting on 33.6 percent of her shots from all over the floor. While Solomon provides great ball handling skills, an ability score at will and “swagger that is needed to raise this program,” Mets is a “hard-nosed, speedy, intelligent guard” that can contribute on both ends of the court.
Down in the post, 6-foot-0 sophomore Jessica McMillan, one of the team’s leading shot blockers in 2012-13, and 6-foot-1 junior Kaleigh Phillips, who missed the majority of last season due to injury, are poised for breakout years.
Six true freshmen join the Wildcat women’s basketball ranks this year, increasing Linfield’s depth and overall talent.
“I am extremely encouraged by the talent of this incoming class,” Potera-Haskins said. “This class has some players that I believe will help us increase our overall talent on the court and prove to become key contributors to our team in the immediate future.”
Quincey Gibson, Riley Graham, April Meads and Grace McMillan (younger sister of Jessica) add tremendous depth to the guard position. In addition to scoring prowess, ball handling skills and defensive tenacity, the four rookies also bring a high basketball IQ to the program. Forwards Dani Krier and Annalise Beashers supply height, an offensive mindset and rebounding ability in the paint.
Statistically speaking, the Wildcats must make gains beyond the arc (.256) and at the charity stripe (.518), where they performed at much lower rates than the majority of their Northwest Conference counterparts. The nine league teams cumulatively averaged 61.4 points per game, about 10 more points than Linfield put up per night.
The ‘Cats, who finished tied for eighth in the league with a 2-14 conference record (3-19 overall) truly face stiff competition in the NWC, which features three NCAA playoff-qualifying teams from a season ago as well as the national runner-up from two years ago.
But if there is one thing Potera-Haskins knows for certain, it is her team is ready for the challenge.
“The Wildcats’ trademark will be their teamwork, versatility and depth. They may be youthful but they will be tenacious competitors and will wear the purple and red with great pride.”