OBU's three new guards - Priscilla Alves, Tabetha Eaton and Keely Tolin - are expected to have a big impact on the 2004-05 women's basketball team, but senior leadership will be crucial.
OBU women's basketball coach John McCullough understands that his team doesn't have to win a conference crown to be one of the best small college teams in the nation. But that's the goal.
Sooner Athletic Conference teams Southern Nazarene and Oklahoma City have won 10 of the last 11 national championships in the NAIA and those two teams are the favorites again this year. But OBU is positioned to compete for a ninth consecutive trip to the national tournament and may have some firepower to stay there a while.
True, OBU did graduate first-team All-American and 2002 NAIA Player of the Year Jadrea Seeley. Seeley, who has since married Scott Prater and taken a graduate position with the OBU women, will have have her 29 percent of last year's scoring in street clothes.
McCullough will try to compensate for that big loss with three new players and senior leadership.
OBU sports five seasoned seniors this year in 2003 All-American Layla Schwarz, Shannon Plumb, Tetyana Klimenko, Trena Robbins and Kelli Welborn. All five have started at least once and all five want to go out with their best season.
"I don't think our seniors will let us have a bad season," McCullough predicted. "I think we are going to have great senior leadership. They all want to make this season special."
Schwarz averaged 8.8 points and a team-best 7.4 rebounds last season, but is expected to step back into the leadership position she exhibited in 2003.
"I expect Layla to have a big year," McCullough said. "And if Tanya plays strong in the post we're going to be tough."
The three newcomers are all guards, including junior Tabetha Eaton, sophomore Priscilla Alves and freshman Keely Tolin.
"Those three are going to help us right away," McCullough said. "We are a lot quicker and we will be able to make good passes from the perimeter. We'll be able to be more aggressive on defense. We'll be good on the ball and off the ball."
Alves was recruited by the top NAIA programs and landed at OBU. The native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, came to OBU from Frank Phillips College where she averaged 13.7 points, 3.5 steals, 4.6 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game as a freshman. Alves was named All-Western Junior College Athletic Conference earlier this year. She had a 30-point game against Midland College and had 23 points, 10 assists, 7 rebounds and 7 steals in a game against Rose State. She shot 79.6 percent from the free throw line and 50.6 percent from the field.
OBU had been tracking Eaton since her senior year in a high school. She comes to OBU from Northern Oklahoma College. Eaton, a 5-9 junior from Chickasha, was a nominee for NJCAA All-America after being named to the All-Region II Team. She is a two-time All-Region player and was on this year's All-Region Tournament team as well. She averaged 15 points, 5.3 assists, 3.2 steals and five rebounds per game at Northern. In high school, Eaton was a state champion in the high jump and long jump.
Tolin is no stranger to OBU. She is the daughter of men's basketball coach Doug Tolin and sister of former Bison guard Kyle Tolin. Keely, who has started the last three seasons at Bethel High School, was also a key reserve as a freshman. She was named All-State her senior year and was Co-MVP of the CD Warehouse Classic and a two-time Pott County Coaches Association All-Star. She averaged 15.7 points and led BHS in steals and assists.
The apparent hole in the lineup is the go-to player. Where OBU has had players like Rachel Stark and Seeley setting school scoring records, there is not a clear heir to that responsibility.
"I'm not sure who that go-to person is," McCullough said. "I think we have a lot more options this year. Our three guards can shoot and can create shots for their teammates. Priscilla is going to get some shots we could get the last couple of years because of her quickness. I think we have a nice blend of people."
Lena Brenning and Rachel Heins go almost overlooked, but the duo could prove to be difference makers.
"Rachel might be the meanest, most physical player we have. She might be the most unnoticed player, too," McCullough said. "Lena was beginning to have an impact last year before she tore her ACL."
Sheneka Holder and Jessie Sullivan can't be ignored either, McCullough said.
"We just have a good group of starters and role players," McCullough said. "I think we'll be strong enough to compete with the teams in our league. We play a tough non-conference schedule that will prepare us for the conference."