Experience Meets Youth

Sofia Panuelos | Staff Photographer

The last time the UCI women’s basketball team took the floor they fell 13 points short of defeating Cal State Fullerton on March 13 in the first round of the Big West Tournament. In the 89-76 loss to the Titans, Mikah Maly-Karros carried the Anteaters, posting a career-high 41 points that also tied the school-record. This year, Maly-Karros is back with reinforcements.

Despite missing the first nine games of the season, Loyola Marymount’s loss quickly became Irvine’s gain, as Maly-Karros caught up to speed, setting the school record in free throws made with 145. She notched 13 double-doubles in her shortened season, which ranked 29th nationally.

Blessed with a star in Maly-Karros and a vocal leader in senior Jade Smith-Williams, Coach Molly Goodenbour has made numerous additions to the 2010-2011 squad in hopes of complimenting her leading scorers.

“We’re going to rely a lot on our returning kids who have had a year or two in our system of college basketball,” Goodenbour said.

Against Fullerton, Maly-Karros kissed bank-shot after bank-shot after bank-shot off the glass while knocking down several free throws in her 41-point, nine-rebound performance. This coming season, it is key for her to continue her aggressive, physical style of play, drawing fouls and getting to the line.

Smith-Williams is nothing short of a coach on the floor. Leading the team offensively and defensively, she knows Goodenbour’s schemes inside and out as she transferred with her third-year coach from Chico State in 2008. She’s also a workhorse, logging 31.6 minutes per game and starting all 30 contests in the 2009-2010 campaign. Last season, she wasn’t shy from three-point range, making 34.5 percent of her 119 attempts from deep range. Smith-Williams also brings proficiency from the charity stripe, knocking down 81 percent of her attempts from the line last year.

Irvine’s Lady Anteaters registered a 9-21 record last season, an improvement from their seven wins the season prior but still below the team’s expectations. With an upcoming non-conference exhibition against neighboring Concordia University on Thursday, Oct. 28 at the Bren, Goodenbour has a positive outlook on the impending season.

“I’m optimistic,” Goodenbour said. “We’re a lot better at this time this year than we were last year.”

UCI lost key contributors to graduation in June. The twins, Keyonna and Ka’Jahna Johnson will no longer be driving the ball up the floor, the ’Eaters can’t count on Rebecca Maessen to knock down clutch three-pointers and oft-injured yet reliable sparkplug Mary Has will no longer serve as motivation for the Anteaters.

It’s the reality every coach must understand in a business that only deems players eligible for four seasons.

“The players who were on our bench last year, the transfers and freshmen have the ability to come in and help us right away,” Goodenbour said of the upcoming season’s roster.

Of the current roster, only two Anteaters have been at UCI all four years and they will bring a familiar presence down low. Senior center Kim Barnes looks to recover from a knee injury that ended her season early last year. Prior to that, Barnes added a solid 7.3 points per game. Senior forward Raquel Theus has been wildly inconsistent in her performance, but also will want to end her four-year tenure at UCI with a bang.

In addition, Goodenbour’s freshmen class from last season are all back with a year under their belts. Big West Freshman of the Year Jazmyne White will help out down low with solid rebounding and a shot-blocking presence. Forwards Lauren Spinazze and Cheyenne Cathey also had their moments last year; however Spinazze is redshirting after recently undergoing shoulder surgery.

Goodenbour’s incoming freshmen and transfers look promising. Former Oregon State University Beavers, forward Tayler Champion and guard Kassandra McAlister are welcome additions who give the team much-needed depth. Champion will become eligible in December, while McAlister will redshirt the season, helping UCI out during practice only. Another talented transfer, 5’7 guard Joanna Miller, who was named the 2009-2010 NCAA Division I All-Independent Women’s Basketball Newcomer of the Year, must redshirt the 2010-2011 season as well.

After sitting out as a redshirt last season, freshman Jacquelyn Marshall must be itching to get her first taste of college basketball. The 6’2 forward brings versatility in the form of length down low and touch from beyond the arc that could lead to a deadly tandem if paired with Maly-Karros on the floor.

The team has made steps to “reinforce the post play,” Goodenbour said. “We’ll have people to put around Mikah. And our freshmen guards we brought in [Kelly Meggs and Natalie Butler] will be able to back up Jade. We’re encouraged by the level of talent we’ve brought in.”

With a diverse unit composed of veterans and young difference makers, look for the Anteaters to make significant improvements in their coach’s third season at the helm.

“Our expectations are real high. We have a lot to look forward to,” Goodenbour said. “But then again, it’s all potential until you do it.”