It’s all about the details this season for the Linfield women’s basketball team. Head coach Robin Potera-Haskins aims to have the Wildcats finish among the upper middle half of the Northwest Conference, battling for one of four coveted spots in the league tournament at year’s end.
To get there, Linfield must focus on the fundamentals. Particular emphasis is to be placed on increased rebounding prowess and free throw execution, areas in which the Wildcats have trailed the rest of the league in recent years.
This could be a real turning point for Linfield in its fifth season under Potera-Haskins. The 2014-15 Wildcats play with a heightened basketball IQ and have developed better habits, including the ability to more quickly evaluate and adapt to situations on the court.
“We know what to do, now it’s matter of executing,” Potera-Haskins said. “Last year we competed really well, but there were some games in which we just didn’t maintain focus enough because our habits hadn’t been developed in terms of executing, fundamentals, logistics and details. That’s what separates the teams that win.”
Offensively, the Wildcats need to replace their top two contributors from a season ago, including the program’s No. 3 all-time scorer Kaely Maltman. Though the Wildcats are without a go-to threat, returners and newcomers alike are offensively minded and confident, meaning Linfield has the potential to have a different scoring leader on any given night.
Senior guard Taylor Solomon, whom Potera-Haskins refers to as “the quiet assassin,” tallied 10.6 points per night and brings powerful leadership skills to the court. Quincey Gibson, a sophomore, is a savvy point guard who worked relentlessly in the offseason to improve her game. Solomon and Gibson, along with sophomore Dani Krier, are serious threats from 3-point range.
Paige Graham, Amantha Hood and Hannah DePew constitute part of Linfield’s talented incoming class. Graham can knock down big shots from beyond the arc. Hood, who returned to the game after taking a year off, is a powerful and explosive offensive threat, and attacks the glass with vigor. In addition to being a tremendous defender and aggressive rebounder, junior-college transfer DePew can also contribute offensively.
Linfield may not have added much size in the paint, but the Wildcats have vastly improved in aggression, physicality and rebounding.
Jessica McMillan is the most veteran post returner. After leading the team in blocks while averaging 5.2 points per game a season ago, the versatile forward worked extremely hard in the preseason to become a bigger contributor in her junior season. Expectations are also high for Kaleigh Phillips, who enters the year healthy after injuries spoiled her previous two years as a Wildcat.
With added depth and enhanced overall skill development from its returning players, the Wildcats enjoy vastly more options than they have in previous seasons, including on the defensive end of the court.
Sophomore returner Riley Graham, who saw action in all 25 games as a freshman, is a tenacious defender who plays with all-out hustle. At 6-0, Annalise Beshears adds important size and rebounding ability in the paint. Small but quick, rookie Jade Everage has the ability to wreak havoc on opposing guards. Fellow newcomers Genna Hughes and Alexandra Bader should log important minutes off the bench.
Linfield remains a young team - with nine underclassmen listed among its 12 players - and must mature quickly to compete in one of the toughest conferences in the country. But should the Wildcats maintain focus on the details, Potera-Haskins likes her team’s chances.
“If we do everything fundamentally correct, there isn’t a team in Division III that we can’t beat on a given day.”