The 2019-20 season was a success for the Idaho State women’s basketball team, and it looks like that’s poised to continue.
After exceeding expectations with a young roster, the Bengals bring every important rotation player back for 2020-21, an envious setup that will likely install them as one of the preseason favorites in the Big Sky Conference along with Idaho and Northern Arizona.
The numbers behind ISU’s returning experience are staggering. With three little-used reserves — Kaitlyn Bell (midseason), Irene Vicente and Nuria Barrientos — transferring but everybody else returning, 95.7% of the Bengals’ points will be back next year.
That includes three players (Dora Goles, Callie Bourne and Estefania Ors) who have been named to an all-conference team at some point in their careers, along with two of the best freshmen in the Big Sky a year ago (Diaba Konate and Tomekia Whitman). Then, there’s two other players who started at least 10 games a year ago (Montana Oltrogge and Ellie Smith), and three reserves who played important roles (Delaney Moore, Jordan Sweeney and Carsyn Boswell).
“We’re athletic, we’ve got good talent, we have the potential to shoot the ball really well,” ISU head coach Seton Sobolewski said.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t things to figure out going into next season, though, and the coronavirus pandemic has thrown Sobolewski’s plans out of whack.
After a rest period following the conclusion of their season, the Bengals were scheduled to get back in the gym last week to start individual workouts, as well as resuming weight training.
With players scattered across the country and social distancing in effect, that won’t be happening, and the team’s eight weeks of NCAA-permitted summer practices might be in jeopardy as well, leaving Sobolewski and his staff uncertain of how much time they’ll get to work with players.
“We’re going to work with whatever they give us, but I would love to get eight weeks in the summertime with our team,” Sobolewski said. “That’s what we’ve always gotten, whether it’s right at the beginning of July, end of June, or just the beginning of August. I’m hoping that we can squeeze in as close to eight weeks as we can.”
With so much experience and institutional knowledge returning, ISU could have an advantage over some other teams if practice time is cut. The returning players don’t need to learn the playbook or how to play with other, although more familiarity is always better.
But Sobolewski still wants that time to start sorting out what some would call a good problem to have — how to divvy up playing time among so many established players.
“We have to start looking and figuring out lineups,” Sobolewski said. “One thing that’s going to be tough is, with Estefi and Tomekia coming back, you had some other people do great jobs stepping up in their place, like Montana Oltrogge. So now we have to kind of figure out how we’re going to handle some of these rotations.”
Ors, Goles, Bourne, Konate and Smith made up ISU’s starting lineup in 2019-20 before Ors’ knee injury in non-conference play, and will likely be the presumed starting five going into next season.
That leaves Whitman and Oltrogge, who each started at least 10 games and averaged over 20 minutes and 8 points per game in 2019-20, coming off the bench, along with Moore, who’ll once again be Smith’s primary backup in the post.
Then there’s Boswell and Sweeney, who showed well in limited minutes as freshman guards and would typically be expecting to push into the rotation as sophomores.
Sobolewski doesn’t like to play his stars heavy minutes, but absent injuries — never a strong assumption to make concerning ISU women’s basketball — there still may not be enough playing time to go around.
“I think the most important part is that we have our attitudes in the right place,” Sobolewski said. “Maybe some people have gotten to a place where, hey, I was playing a lot, or I was starting, or whatever, and now a lineup may change. How do I handle that with my attitude? ... A lot of it’s going to be mental and emotional. We have to get in shape, we have to get to a place where we’re trying to physically maximize our talent, but the mental side and emotional side is going to be really important, I think, this upcoming year.”
That will be a different challenge than the one Idaho State faced in 2019-20, when Sobolewski was trying to get the most talent out of a young, unproven roster after Ors went down.
Now, the Bengals know they have talent going into a season, and how they handle the shift might define the 2020-21 season.
“I think we’re going to take care of a lot of the physical stuff and talent stuff, we’re going to check those boxes, hopefully,” Sobolewski said. “I think it’s really going to come down to, how prepared we are, where are we at mentally, where are we at with our individual egos, and are we taking care of those areas too? I’m not worried about it, I think we’ve got some great kids on our team. We don’t have a lot of selfishness, we don’t have a lot of jealousy, we don’t have a lot of issues like that, so I think it’s going to be good, but that’s something that we really have to focus on.”
With Barrientos and Vicente entering the transfer portal, Idaho State opened up a few roster spots to work with, and the Bengals are planning to fill them when the national signing period opens Wednesday.
Zoe Hutchings, a post player from Montesano High School in Washington state, already signed with ISU in the early signing period in December, but Sobolewski said the Bengals will add “two or three more” players on Wednesday.
“If things work out the way we hope it does, two will be junior college transfers and one will be a freshman,” Sobolewski said.
One of the junior college players will likely be Finley Garnett from the College of Southern Idaho. The CSI women’s basketball Twitter account announced her commitment to ISU on March 9.
Garnett, a 5-foot-9 sophomore from Huntington Beach, California, averaged 7.8 points and 4.7 rebounds per game in 28 games, 22 starts for CSI in 2019-20.
“We were lucky enough that we were ahead enough in our recruiting that (the coronavirus) hasn’t really impacted our recruiting much,” Sobolewski said. “We were lucky to get some visits in and get some things done before corona hit. So for next year’s team, it really hasn’t impacted much.”
Injured Players Working Back
Sobolewski also provided an update on the health of Ors and Whitman, who each suffered season-ending injuries.
Ors, who tore her PCL in December, is close to progressing to a more vigorous stage of her rehab.
“Estefi is close to being released to doing more, other than some stretching and some physical therapy type work,” Sobolewski said.
Whitman, who suffered a stress fracture in her right foot in February, is now out of the walking boot she sported for the remainder of the season, and is back in Spokane, Washington, with her family continuing her rehab.
Both are expected to be ready for the beginning of the season, if it starts on time.