Emerging victorious in four of their final eight games, including a season-ending three-game win streak, the Wildcats put together a late surge to finish fifth in the Northwest Conference and with their best overall record in four years.
It’s an impressive finish for a young team with just three upperclassmen – including one junior-college transfer and a lone senior who missed the second half due to injury – and competes in one of the most difficult leagues in the country. Out of the Wildcats’ 13 total losses, six came at the hands of nationally ranked NWC opponents and the other two against the national runner-up from a season ago.
“To come in fifth place was absolutely awesome for our program,” said head coach Robin Potera-Haskins. “With us having so many [ranked teams] I’m just really proud of how we played down the stretch without senior Taylor Solomon and our top two scorers.”
When Solomon went down in the seventh game of the conference season, Linfield lost both veteran leadership and scoring ability; the senior guard averaged 8.3 points per game. Compounding problems for the final two games was the loss of top producers Amantha Hood (12.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg) and Hannah Depew (9.9 ppg, 3.2 apg) along with freshman reserve Genna Hughes, who boasted an average of 5.1 points over her final six contests.
By that final weekend, then, the Wildcats were down to just eight healthy players. But given the opportunity, Linfield’s remaining starters and reserves made the most of their time on the court with significant contributions in their new roles.
Logging 28.8 minutes over the final five games, sophomore Dani Krier exploded for four double-digit performances, including a 21-point effort against Pacific Lutheran, for a steady 14.4 points per night.
Freshman guard Jade Everage earned the starting point guard position at the midway point of the year, freeing up sophomore Quincey Gibson for more offensive opportunities. Gibson, in turn, responded with a steady 8.3 points per night.
Rookie guard Paige Graham finished the season with back-to-back career high and double digit efforts, while Annalise Beshears doubled her point and minute averages in her second season. Jessica McMillan and Riley Graham supplied defensive intensity along with a combined 10.6 points per game.
“They had great preparation and worked really hard in practice,” Potera-Haskins said of her players. “The improvement among all the freshmen, and even the sophomores, was really dramatic.”
As a team, Linfield made strides in two areas of emphasis – free throw shooting and rebounding – en route to its 12-13 overall record.
At the charity stripe, the Wildcats registered the third best rate in the league at 70.5 percent, a significant turnaround from last season’s 57.7 percent conversion rate. Notably, Gibson and Krier totaled the two highest completion percentages – 94.6 and 92.9, respectively – in single-season program history.
Linfield finished among the top half of the conference for total rebounds (38.8 per name) after finishing near the bottom of the league in the same category last season. However, the Wildcats also yielded the second highest average of offensive rebounds, while giving up a near conference-high 65.8 points per games, signs the team needs to make significant gains defensively.
“Against stronger teams, I would really like our defensive prowess to improve,” Potera-Haskins said. “We can’t allow them to get second chances on offensive rebounds. We need to make significant improvement on to get in that playoff position, which I think is a realistic goal for us.”
Linfield also struggled to control possession, committing 18.3 turnovers per game. Those miscues factored heavily into many of outcomes, at the low end a 29-turnover performance in a loss to George Fox and at the high end a six-turnover effort in a season-ending victory against Lewis & Clark.
“Making the proper decisions in a very short space against very athletic upperclassmen, we have to learn to make adjustments,” Potera-Haskins said.
Managing turnovers is one example of the overall development of fundamentals still needed to elevate the women’s basketball program higher in the conference standings.
“We made shots when it counted and got defensive stops when we needed to,” Potera-Haskins said, “but it needs to be more consistent.”