The Sacramento State women’s basketball team continued to raise the bar for frenzied, up-tempo basketball in Year 2 of coach Bunky Harkleroad’s “The System” during the 2014-15 season.
The Hornets broke their own NCAA Division I single-season records for three-pointers made (424) and attempted (1,339) and also led all 343 D-I women’s teams in steals (16.9), offensive rebounds (20.0) and turnover margin (plus-12).
The Hornets’ 85.6 scoring average ranked third nationally behind three-time defending national champion UConn and No. 18 DePaul. Sac State’s point total was bolstered by a school-record 123-point performance in beating Portland State in February.
Yet despite those lofty statistics, Harkleroad and his players figure they have yet to put the pedal all the way to the metal when it comes to racing past records.
“In terms of points, assists, rebounds, steals and all those good things we like to produce, there’s no limit on those,” Harkleroad said. “The only limit is on how long the game goes.”
Juniors Margaret Huntington and Gretchen Harrigan say scoring records will continue to be at risk because 11 letter winners and one redshirt return who are familiar with intricacies of “The System.” That means continuous full-court pressure, mistake-inducing traps, frenetic ball movement and wholesale subbing every 60 to 90 seconds.
When done well, it’s quite the show.
Last year, the Hornets had 31 different starting lineups as they finished 18-16 overall, 13-5 in the Big Sky Conference and produced the first two postseason wins in the school’s D-I history. Their second-place finish, one game behind champion Montana, was their best since joining the Big Sky in 1991.
“At the end of the day, I don’t think we even have to worry about topping records,” said Harrigan, a 5-foot-8 forward from Petaluma who was the Big Sky’s Top Reserve last season. “If we hustle, play for one another and do the dirty work that people normally don’t want to do, there’s no doubt we are going to match or exceed those.”
Huntington, the longest-tenured Hornet with four years in the program, has noticed a quicker step in everyone’s game after making a strong run late last season in conference play and the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
“We have set a lot of records already and done some big things already, but we’re still hungry, still have some goals we hope to reach, including winning the Big Sky,” said Huntington, a 6-foot forward from Oakland who led the Hornets in rebounding last season. “We were close last year, but we didn’t quite get it done. So we feel this is definitely our year for the breakthrough.”
To fill the vacancy at point guard left by last season’s leading scorer, Fantasia Hilliard, Harkleroad expects to rotate senior Ericka Magana, sophomore Justyce Dawson and true freshman Madeline Dopplick. Guards Adella Randle-El, Brianna Burgos, Maranne Johnson and Ashlyn Crenshaw also are capable ballhandlers.
While playing “The System” can be exhausting, even in short spurts, Huntington and Harrigan say it’s fun and challenging.
“It’s totally a new way to play basketball,” Harrigan said. “It’s expanded our abilities as basketball players, and it’s really fun when we get on a roll.”
Huntington likes the cooperative nature of “The System,” where egos get checked at the door and the star player one night is likely to be a role player the next.
“It’s exciting, it’s chaotic, but the most awesome part about ‘The System’ is that we play so many people,” Huntington said. “Everyone gets an opportunity to score, get rebounds, make a contribution. You really feel like you’re working as a team. I wouldn’t want to play any other way now.”
Five things to know about the Hornets
- Sac State has added four new faces to the roster in freshman guards Madeline Dopplick and Raegen Rohn, sophomore guard Abbey Goodsell, an all-state player at Long Beach City College, and Portland State transfer Emily Easom, a senior who will sit out this season. They replace starters Fantasia Hilliard, Takara Burse, Hallie Gennett and key reserve Andrea Chenier. All but Gennett exhausted their eligibility. Gennett, the team’s second-leading scorer at 12.1 points per game last season, transferred to San Jose State, where she reunites with Jamie Craighead, the former Sac State coach who recruited Gennett out of high school.
- UCLA comes to The Nest on Dec. 18, followed by Big West Conference teams Hawaii on Dec. 20 and UC Irvine on Dec. 22. One of the nonconference matchups Harkleroad looks forward to is Villanova in the Cal Classic on Dec. 5 in Berkeley. “They are a very good team and one of the slowest-playing teams in the country,” Harkleroad said of the Wildcats, who allowed 56.3 points last season. “It’s a match-up of teams with totally opposite styles.” Thirteen teams that reached the postseason last season are on the Hornets’ schedule.
- Sac State’s second-place finish and No. 2 seed for the Big Sky Conference tournament was its highest tournament seed in program history, though the Hornets lost 81-79 in overtime to Northern Colorado in the semifinals in Montana. This season, the Hornets have been picked to finish third in both the Big Sky preseason coaches and media polls. Defending champion Montana was selected first and North Dakota second in both polls. Sac State had the same number of points as North Dakota in the coaches poll, but lost the tiebreaker as North Dakota had a first-place vote and the Hornets did not.
- Harkleroad has mixed thoughts about the Big Sky men’s and women’s tournaments that will be played at the neutral site Reno Events Center on March 7-12. “I’m excited because now family and friends are going to have advance notice and time to make reservations and the venue is convenient for us,” Harkleroad said. “I’m on the fence about all 12 (women’s) teams making the tournament. But at the end of day, we’re going to have 24 teams in Reno, so there’s going to be some great basketball and it should create a lot of buzz.”
- Junior forward Margaret Huntington will have the chance this season to be the only player in Sac State women’s Division I basketball history (1991 to the present) to be a member of four consecutive winning teams. Before the Oakland native arrived and redshirted the 2012-13 season, the Hornets had 19 consecutive non-winning seasons and just one winning season in Big Sky Conference play.
Sac State women at a glance
at Utah State
at New Mexico State
at New Mexico
vs. Cal/Saint Mary’s**
1 p.m./3 p.m.
at UC Davis
at Cal Poly
at Idaho State*
at Weber State*
at Portland State*
at Montana State*
at Eastern Washington*
at Southern Utah*
at Northern Arizona*
Big Sky Tournament (Reno)
** Cal Classic, Berkeley; * Big Sky Conference