WOMEN'S BASKETBALL PRESEASON Q&A WITH HEAD COACH JAMIE CRAIGHEAD
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Before the Sacramento State women's basketball team opens its 2012-13 season with games at Long Beach State and CSU Fullerton this weekend, we sat down with head coach Jamie Craighead to get her thoughts on the upcoming year.
Jamie Craighead is entering her fourth season at the helm of the women's basketball program.
Craighead and the Hornets return more than 80 percent of their points, assists and rebounds from a season ago, in which they finished sixth in the Big Sky Conference and won a Big Sky Tournament game for the first time in school history. The Hornets have advanced to the Big Sky Tournament five times since joining the league for the 1996-97 season, and twice under Craighead's watch.
Entering her fourth year as head coach, Craighead will have arguably her deepest and most experienced roster to date.
WHAT HAVE FALL PRACTICES BEEN LIKE?
Craighead: “It’s good to have everybody back. It seems like we have a lot of depth. We have more experience. We have more maturity. Most of the players have been around the program at least a year, some two or three years. So now we’re able to focus on details and it’s the first time that’s really occurred. We have been working on fine-tuning everything this year instead of building from the ground up.”
WITH ALL THAT DEPTH AND EXPERIENCE BACK, WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR THIS SEASON?
Craighead: “We have to treat this as a journey, not a destination, and take one game at a time. But the expectation is to get in a position where we are playing for a Big Sky championship and playing for a chance at a tournament bid. We really want to, as a program, win home basketball games this year and create a big home court advantage. That is a focus. The sky is the limit for this group.”
KYLIE KUHNS HAS BEEN ONE OF THE BEST PLAYERS IN THE CONFERENCE THE LAST TWO SEASONS. WHAT IS NEXT FOR HER?
Craighead: “Kylie has, by no means, reached all her milestones yet and she will continue to break records around here. But Kylie has always been a player that has carried us. The cool part about this team is now we have people around her. The load doesn’t have to rest on her shoulders. And it can’t. When she had her most prolific season as a sophomore, we only won four games. She didn’t have a whole lot of help. But as we’ve gotten better and better, with people around her that can contribute and compliment what she does, we have developed more balance and I think that is important. My expectation is that after this season, Kylie will leave this program with more rebounds than anyone has ever had and that she will continue to score at a high level. But we want to win a championship, and that will really determine what Kylie’s success is here.”
KYLIE WILL HOLD DOWN THE POWER FORWARD POSITION THIS YEAR. WHAT ABOUT SOME OF THE PLAYERS BEHIND HER?
Craighead: “Megan Kritscher is more of a center, but she plays well in that position inside. She is 6-foor-4 and has something a lot of players on this team don’t have, which is height. I hope that she can contribute and we can use her in a lot of different ways this year. We also have Shanti Smith back from a knee injury. That will be a process for her this season, but the cool part of it is we now have some distance between her and Kylie; Shanti has two more years left after Kylie graduates. Shanti can score, and score in bunches, and she is a different player than most people are used to seeing. Our freshman, Margaret Huntington, is by far the most athletic player we have on the roster. She is picking things up quickly but how much she can learn will dictate how much she can help us this season."
YOUR BIGGEST LOSS FROM LAST SEASON IS EMILY CHRISTENSEN. WHAT IS THE DEPTH CHART LIKE THIS YEAR AT HER CENTER POSITION?
Craighead: “Sadie Clements will play some five for us when we go small, to a more guard-oriented system. She is a lot like Emily in that she can knock down that three-point shot consistently. She keeps us in our offense because she can also drive and attack from that position. Natasha Torgerson can really shoot the ball and she will help us. She can get some rebounds and be aggressive. It’s her senior year and I hope she puts it all out there. We also have Liz Mills at the five. She was a freshman last year and didn’t get a lot of minutes but has done a great job of getting in shape this year and picking up our system. I have high expectations for all of them. We have a lot of depth here and it will be a really cool battle within our team to see who will produce. One night it might be one person, but another game it will be somebody else.”
YOU ALSO HAVE SOME GREAT DEPTH AT THE SMALL FORWARD SPOT. HOW IS THAT SHAKING OUT?
Craighead: “Mallorie Franco and Se’nyce Parrish are right there, neck and neck, and it's probably going to be a battle between the two of them. Se’nyce can really drill the three. She has a nice shot, it allows her to get to the rim, and she rebounds like crazy. Mallorie, its her senior year and she started every game for us last year. But, honestly, it doesn’t matter too much who starts for me, it's about who finishes games. Both of them compliment each other really well and they could both be one of the best small forwards in the conference. They’re ready to go and they bring their best every day.”
ALLE MORENO WAS OUTSTANDING AT THE SHOOTING GUARD SPOT DOWN THE STRETCH. HOW DOES IT SHAKE OUT BEHIND HER THIS YEAR?
Craighead: “Alle will play a lot. She is durable and will play some point guard for us too. I look for her to continue to shoot the ball and be aggressive. The great thing about her is she is not just a shooter, she can put it on the ground and she really helps us defensively. Sadie will also play some two for us when we go with a bigger lineup. This might be the one spot where we don’t have a ton of depth, because we have a transfer, Andrea Chenier, who is sitting out this year.
FANTASIA HILLIARD WAS THE BIG SKY FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR LAST SEASON. YOUR STARTING POINT GUARD IS SET, BUT WHAT IS BEHIND HER?
Craighead: “We have Taylor Peacocke, a freshman, who is a combo guard, who will get some time this season. She can really score off the dribble and is a great rebounder. She is a gamer and plays really hard. Mariah Brown is the fastest player anybody has seen in the Big Sky Conference. She is really good defensively and can lock down on people. We can use her a lot.
YOU HAVE ALL THESE PLAYERS BACK, BUT WHAT ARE SOME OF THE LITTLE THINGS THAT WILL BE DIFFERENT ABOUT THIS SEASON’S TEAM?
Craighead: “We are a lot more athletic. The kids who were freshmen last year and maybe didn’t play a ton of minutes, they are the most athletic class we’ve put together. But it’s taken them some time to pick up on how we play and what we do. But now that they can let go and let loose, they can kind of terrorize people on the floor. Nothing is changing in our style, but we can do a few more things defensively this year that we couldn’t do last season. We’ve also added some things to our offense that will elevate us to another level.”
IN YEAR FOUR WITH THE HORNETS, HOW HAVE YOU GROWN AND EVOLVED AS A HEAD COACH?
Craighead: “I think every year it changes for me and that is the coolest part of coaching. We just continuously grow. My system as a whole has continued to grow and taken shape and will keep on doing that, hopefully, forever. I have stayed true to myself as a coach and taught what I believe in. It’s an uptempo brand of basketball where we have a lot of fun coaching and teaching and our players have a ton of fun playing. I’ve also developed in how I manage the team and my coaching staff. I think I’m a better coach now than when I started. But I’m the head of a program, not just a team.”