ST. GEORGE – After taking over the Dixie State women’s basketball program last year, head coach J.D. Gustin inherited a team with only five returning players. Gustin added three freshmen and five transfers to round out his lineup. The makeshift squad struggled through a 5-21 season, finishing 11th out of 14 teams in the PacWest.
This year seems to have the same chaotic beginning as last year. Despite only graduating two seniors from last year’s team, only five players return from the 2016-17 squad. Throw in five freshmen and two transfers to finish the makeup of this year’s team.
That does not bode well for a program in desperate need of stability that upperclassmen provide. Since the departure of head coach Angie Kristensen in 2013, the women’s basketball team has gone through four coaches in four years. The last winning season was Kristensen’s last full season (2012-2013). Normally, coaches at the university level desire three to four years to implement their programs and recruit the type of athletes that best suit their game schemes.
Despite seeing a second year of overhaul, three of the players returning have been here for two or more years. Ashlee Burge, Gabby Cabanero and Tramina Jordan will provide leadership to the young team. Two other returning starters are Matti Ventling and Ali Franks.
The Trailblazers will have a favorable non-conference schedule. After opening at the Hampton Inn D2 Shootout at Western Oregon this weekend, they will play four of their next five games at home. They will play Colorado Mesa in their home opener on Nov. 17.
This year, the Blazers are picked to finish 10th in the PacWest. Depending on how quickly Gustin can get the new talent to mesh with the returning players, DSU has the talent to edge considerably higher in the final standings.
Speedy Tramina Jordan packs a lot of punch in her diminutive 5-foot-6 frame. Last year, Jordan led the team in scoring (11.0 ppg), assists (3.8 apg) and accuracy from distance (34.6 percent on 3-pointers). Ventling (9.4 ppg, 3.0 apg) is a combo guard that can take over the point, or play scoring guard. She can hit the 3-pointer and also get to the basket. Ventling led the team in steals (36) last year.
Franks (8.7 ppg) started 18 games last year as a true freshman. While her role was mainly complementary, she did not hesitate to step up when needed. Cabanero was a spark plug off the bench last year. She scored 4.2 ppg in her 15 minutes per game.
It will be interesting to see how Gustin mingles in his incoming freshmen. It is likely that Taylor Moeaki and Mariah Martin will see some extended early playing time. Moeaki averaged 18.6 points and 3.2 assists in leading her team, American Fork, to a 25-1 record and the Utah 5A state title last year. Martin averaged 16.8 points, 6.8 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 4.6 steals for Alta High School. Local product Morgan Myers (Desert Hills) is a defensive specialist and will likely be used in specialty pressure situations or to shut down an opposing offensive player.
Last year’s leading rebounder, Lisa VanCampen, returns but will take a redshirt this year. Ashley Burge, when given room in the post, is a nightmare for opposing teams at the offensive end. Last year, however, recurring injuries limited her conditioning and mobility. At times she was a liability at the defensive end. She missed five games due to injury. While she averaged a healthy 24 minutes per game, the team is far better off with her on the floor when she is at full strength. She led the team in field goal percentage (.465) and was second in rebounding behind VanCampen (5.6). She is also an excellent passer out of the post.
The interesting question is who will team with her in the post position. Two transfers appear to be the most likely possibilities. BYU-Hawaii transfer Kristin Baldwin averaged a double-double last year, scoring 12.0 points and pulling down 10.9 rebounds per game. Maile Richardson, a trasfer from USU-Eastern, averaged 8.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game in her two seasons for the Eagles.
Two freshmen, Shandi Bastian from Richfield High School and Keslee Stevenson from Box Elder High School, could also see playing time. Bastian averaged 10.8 points and 6.1 rebounds. Stevenson, who could also play at the wing, averaged 15.5 points, 2.7 steals and 2.0 assists.
Head coach J.D. Gustin begins his second season at DSU. Prior to Dixie State, he served as an assistant at Weber State, where he helped lead the Wildcats to a 23-12 record and a runner-up finish in the NIT.
Returning as an assistant is Nicole Yazzie. Joining the staff this season is former high school coach Deb Bennett.
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