Four years ago, the question surrounding the Oregon State women’s basketball program was how on Earth were the Beavers going to be able to replace the likes of Jamie Weisner, Ruth Hamblin and Deven Hunter, three players who had major roles in elevating the Beavers to national prominence in their four seasons in Corvallis.
A similar question is probably being asked again this year, only the names have changed. Now it’s, how will the Beavers replace the likes of Mikayla Pivec, Destiny Slocum and Kat Tudor?
Pivec and Tudor both exhausted their eligibility, as did Maddie Washington and Janessa Thropay, while Slocum (Arkansas), along with Patricia Morris (TCU), decided to transfer.
But as Scott Rueck, now entering his 11th season as the Beavers' head coach, put it, that’s life in college sports.
“It's constantly evolving, it constantly changes you,” he said at Pac-12 media day on Nov. 17. “You are adapting, moving into new roles, adapting as your season goes from the way you play as you learn your team and as the team goes.
"For me, we've lost great players in the past, we've lost significant classes in the past. This last year … we lost a lot of personality, a lot of leadership and a lot of ability.”
The cupboard isn’t bare. Senior guard Aleah Goodman, sophomore center/forward Taylor Jones and redshirt junior forward Taya Corosdale, who is back after missing last season with an injury, return to set a strong foundation on both ends of the floor.
“We lost some big personalities on the court, as well as off the court but I think we’re filling those roles,” Goodman said. “We know it's not going to be individuals stepping up, but more about the team coming together to fill those (holes).”
One of the players who will help out will be Ellie Mack, the Patriot League’s player of the year last season after averaging 15 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. Those numbers are similar to the production Pivec had last season (14.8 ppg, 9.3 rpg and 4.3 apg).
The Beavers may have a height advantage this season with seven player listed over 6-foot-3 with two more at 6-1. However, Andrea Aquino, a 6-9 redshirt sophomore post, has yet to be cleared in her time at Oregon State, and 6-6 sophomore post Kennedy Brown is rehabbing from ACL surgery in March and there is no timetable for her return this season.
Still, the Beavers return Jones, a 6-3 sophomore who started every game last season and is on the Naismith Award watch list and welcome the services of 6-9 redshirt freshman Jelena Mitrovic, who missed last season with an injury.
Throw in Corosdale and Mack, both listed at 6-3, and Washington State grad transfer Jovana Subasic (6-4) and the Beavers have plenty of height in the front court.
“I think that our posts are very fast, athletic and it's just going to be a different look than what we had last year,” Jones said. “We have a lot of height and a lot of speed. We have a bunch of different posts, different post play. Like me and Jelena, our games are completely different. She's 6-foot-9 and she is more ... strength and finesse. And I'm more like speedy, like just try and get past you. … So it's just completely different looks and it's going be amazing to see what we do.”
The guards have some size as well as both freshmen, Savanah Samuel and Sasha Goforth, check in at 6-1. The Beavers also return Goodman (5-9), junior Jasmine Simmons (5-11) and redhsirt sophomore Noelle Mannen (5-6) and welcome in freshman Ana Teresa Faustino (5-7).
It could be quite a different look from last year, where the depth and skill at the guard positions was the primary source of offense.
“We've got a significant inside game, we've got great leadership on the perimeter, and then we've got so many nice pieces, some of which are new, that surrounds them,” Rueck said. “And so our style of play will be a little bit different, of course, but I think the ceiling on this team is extremely high.
“It's a versatile group that a lot of people can do a lot of things.”
Don’t worry, though, the Beavers will still look to take and make shots from beyond the 3-point line.
“I mean coach Rueck talks about it a lot that we have 12 solid three-point shooters,” Goodman said. “So that's tough to guard. But I'm extremely excited. We're young but this team just has a different type of maturity about them. So I'm really excited I have the opportunity to lead them, and I can't wait for this year to get started.”
Despite so much turnover and so many new faces, the Beavers feel they are at a good spot heading into the season, which begins at 2 p.m. Saturday with a nonconference home game against Montana Western that was just announced on Wednesday. They also play host to Carrol College at 6 p.m. Monday and are slated to open Pac-12 play at home against Utah on Dec. 4.
“It is a process to get here when you first come in,” Simmons said. “But I think everyone has really carried each other with that. So it's made the transition a lot easier. I've been impressed with absolutely everyone on this team so far. And yeah, I'm just excited to jump on the court with them all.”