It truly was a season to remember for SFU women’s basketball — arguably the program’s best-ever in the NCAA era.
The team finished with a 26-8 record, 10 wins the better than the season before and one win better than the previous record of 25 set back in 2013. They also advanced to the Sweet Sixteen of the national tournament for the first time back in 2013.
“One of our goals was to try and get better everyday, and I mean in reflection, and you have to be happy being in the sweet sixteen,” said head coach Bruce Langford. “It’s better than a lot of people thought we would do. [. . .] [However,] when you’re that close and you have a few little things that could have gone either way, you kind of have a ‘what if’ feeling to it.”
The team started the season with a tough non-conference schedule, where SFU played against some of the best teams out of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference. They came away from it with just one loss, the first game against, ironically enough, California Baptist.
“I think they gave us a lot,” said Langford when asked if these early wins gave the team confidence. “More importantly they got us into nationals. The way that teams are selected are based upon the team’s record but also the team’s desire to go out and seek competition and play quality games.
“We went out and played the Pomonas, the Academy of Arts, the Cal Baptists [. . .] That put us in nationals as long as we didn’t have a brutal season. So, we were in nationals two and a half weeks before the season ended.”
Before the last two and a half weeks, SFU was 14–3 and looking like a team to be reckoned with.
In those last weeks, however, the team’s form started to slip a bit. The Clan lost three of the last five games, and looked like the team was in trouble heading into the biggest games of the season.
Langford didn’t see it like that.
“I think those things are very misleading,” he explained. “We lost to the second-ranked team [Alaska Anchorage] in the country in a game we were up by 10. We lost to the ninth-ranked team [Western Washington] in the country in a game we were up 10.
“We lost a game by one point at the buzzer [to Central Washington] that we should have won when we lost our leading scorer and rebounder in the first part of the game — to a team that won eight of their last nine games.
“It wasn’t disappointing. I thought it gave us good rest heading into regionals.”
The rest seemed to work wonders, as SFU looked like a completely different team in the West Regional tournament. They beat UC San Diego 69–65 before pulling off the upset of the tournament in defeating Alaska Anchorage 80–70.
“It’s a hell of an accomplishment,” said Langford on defeating the Seawolves. [. . .] Now, we’ve beaten them three times — in their gym — which is phenomenal. That’s unbelieveable, that team is really good. We took 1,700 people, who were screaming and yelling, to silence with four minutes left. It’s unbelieveable.”
Unfortunately they weren’t able to continue their run, losing 77–64 to California Baptist the following round. Both teams in that game shot 37.1% from the field — the main difference was the Lancers hit 22 free throws. SFU, only five.
Looking forward, the team has some big holes in the lineup to fill, and none are bigger than the one Ellen Kett leaves. The team captain and starting point guard led the team in minutes per game (33.7), three-point shooting percentage (.431), and free throw shooting percentage (.840).
She also led all of Division II in assists with 262, and assists per game with 7.7. She will likely go down as one of the best players SFU has ever had in the NCAA era.
“I think she ranks up there,” said Langford on where Kett ranks amongst the best of the program’s history. “I think she’s a player who got better every year and had the right attitude about getting better and fixing her weaknesses.
“She couldn’t shoot a free throw two years ago; she led our team in free throw shooting this year. Three years ago she couldn’t shoot a three, and last year she almost led the nation in three-point shooting percentage. [. . .] So, I think she ranks right up there amongst our people who continually worked on their game to try and improve it.”
Needless to say, finding a replacement won’t be an easy task. But perhaps that player is Tayler Drynan. In her freshman season, she played mostly with Ellen instead of replacing her — especially near the end of the season. She showed flashes of brilliance, but that was in limited minutes.
“She has to, because Ellen won’t be here,” said Langford when asked if she can replace Kett. “Tayler Drynan has an awful lot of offensive skill. She has to be able to defend. She needs to get stronger, she needs to work on her quickness, and I think she wants it and will step up to it.”
Another big loss will be Meg Wilson. The Clan’s leading scorer and rebounder during the season, she provided a well-rounded game that allowed her to be used in all situations.
When Wilson was Injured in the game against Central Washington, Sophie Swant slotted into the starting lineup and was one of the main reasons the team went on the run they did. She had 17 and 18 points in the first two games of the regional tournament — both were season highs at the time.
While I’m sure the coaching staff would have loved to have Wilson available to them, it gave an opportunity for Swant to audition for a starting role for next season — and she ran with it.
“If Sophie was to dedicate and devote herself to basketball in a way that she could, her potential is extremely high,” said Langford. “Her ball-handling skills aren’t very good, if she can make that better that would be be unbelieveable. If she played a little more basketball that would improve her basketball IQ.
“She’s got room for growth, but she’s got a lot of potential.”
Redshirt junior Elisa Homer will not be returning next season to start pursuing her future career in business. The two redshirts from this season — Jessica Jones and Claudia Hart — are both expected to play “significant roles” next season according to Langford. Ozi Nwabuko, after hitting a bit of a slump down the stretch, should have a better, more consistent year next season.
The program has three verbal commitments for next season, but aren’t expected to jump in and be big contributors like this year’s class.
“I think this year’s class will come in and have a chance to grow,” said Langford on the potential new players. “One of them is a very good athlete, one of them is a very tenacious rebounder, [but is] coming off knee surgery. I think they will come in and fit.”
In all, the future for SFU women’s basketball looks bright. If the freshmen from this year’s class, such as Tayler Drynan and Ozi Nwabuko, can improve and replace key contributors like Ellen Kett, there should be no reason why there would be a drop off.