MONMOUTH — Western Oregon University’s women’s basketball team’s 81-70 victory over Dixie State on Saturday during the WOU/Hampton Inn D2 Shootout may not go down as the team’s highlight of the year.
It was, after all, the Wolves’ first game of the season.
But it could be the first signs that Western Oregon is ready to surprise.
WOU led 23-14 after the first quarter, but Dixie State responded, holding the Wolves to 10 points in the second quarter to take a 34-33 into the half.
In previous years, that could have spelled doom for Western.
“Last year, things may not have went that way,” coach Holli Howard-Carpenter said. “We’d get off to a good start, but then would start playing tight and let it get away. This team is just more confident in each other.”
Five players scored in double figures — Taisha Thomas with 15 points, Jasmine Miller (12 points), Sydney Azorr (11 points), Shelby Snook (10 points) and Kaylie Boschma (10 points).
WOU followed that victory up with a 70-50 win over California State, San Bernardino on Sunday.
“We’re deep this year,” Boschma said. “That’s extremely beneficial. We know that whenever we’re on the court, we can go all out, and our teammates will have our back. Last year, we would get in a slump and just kind of stay in it. This year, because of our energy, we can work out of it.”
That may be because of a wealth of experience.
A year ago, WOU welcomed seven newcomers. With nine returning players this winter, including the team’s top five scorers (Snook, Azorr, Boschma, Miller and Savanna Heugly), the Wolves have a leg up from where they were a year ago.
“I do have higher expectations,” Howard-Carpenter said. “Having so many returners, you know what you’re getting. With new players, you’re not sure how they’ll respond in certain situations. You learn that throughout the year, where people can shine, where players can complement each other.”
Without the growing pains, Howard-Carpenter has a solid base to build on.
“I feel like I already have a rotation,” she said. “At this point last year, I didn’t know who was going to start, who was going to be the first off the bench because I had to see them play and see what they could do.”
The Wolves also boast dangerous newcomers.
Thomas gives the Wolves much-needed depth in the paint. Freshmen guards Keyonna Jones and Olivia Denton have worked their way into the rotation. In addition, Maddy Pape, a redshirt junior, gives the Wolves another scoring threat that can cause opposing guards fits, Howard-Carpenter said.
How that translates on the court remains to be seen.
The Wolves shot only 29.8 percent from beyond the arc and averaged 17.6 turnovers per game during the 2016-17 season, en route to losing nine of their final 10 games.
Howard-Carpenter hopes Western Oregon’s depth means they can and cut down on mistakes.
“Any given night, it doesn’t matter who starts, everyone can contribute,” Howard-Carpenter said. “It’s nice to be able to look down the bench and have options. Depending on how the game is going, we have an answer for it. As a coach, that’s really comforting.”
While Howard-Carpenter is hopeful, others remain doubtful. WOU was picked to finish ninth in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference preseason poll. The Wolves are eager to prove them wrong.
“They ranked us so low,” Boschma said. “That’s a little slap in the back, but it gives us more motivation to go out there and win.”
WOU plays at Notre Dame De Namur Friday at 1 p.m. before hosting Humboldt State Tuesday at 6 p.m.