Looking back and looking ahead at ASU women's basketball

Fond memories and future leaders emerged in the Sun Devils' 2016-17 campaign

A season that included a 20-13 record, a brief stint in the NCAA Tournament and a top-five finish in the Pac-12 is in the rear-view mirror as ASU women’s basketball’s focus turns to the off-season.

Here’s a look back at the season that was, both on and off the court, and what’s to come for the Sun Devils next season.

Off the Court

It all started with a trip to Costa Rica.

Until that point, the ASU women’s basketball team was a puzzle fresh out of the box, with six new players — five freshmen and one grad transfer — working their way into the fabric of a group coming off of a Pac-12 regular-season title.

For these puzzle pieces, however, fitting together was the easy part.

“Toward the last few days (of the trip,) we had a good chance to spend time just goofing off, hanging by the pool and by the beach,” redshirt senior center Sara Hattis said. “I really got to know these girls on a deeper level than just on the court and I loved it.”

That was August, just days before the start of fall classes and two full months before the Sun Devils’ roller coaster of a season set its course.

The connections that were fused in Central America only deepened as the 2016-17 season had ASU all over the country and all over the emotional spectrum.

One of the many places — aside from basketball court — that the Sun Devils found themselves throughout the season was on a remote farm in Edwall, Washington, the home of senior forward Kelsey Moos.

“It was really cool,” Moos said. “I mean, it was dark, so they couldn’t really see anything. The one thing they didn’t see was city lights around them, we’re out in the middle of nowhere and they’re like, ‘Where are we? What did you do growing up?’”

Of course, as is true of any group of college students, this season had some humorous antics sprinkled throughout an otherwise serious season.

At Christmas time, for example, while most ASU students were home for winter break, the Sun Devils were busy making a video montage of their best attempts at popular holiday carols.

All in all, there was more to this team than met the eye, and it showed in the kind of memories they made together throughout the season.

“It’s pretty cool because this team is just so close,” sophomore guard Sabrina Haines said. “We talk to each other a whole lot, even during the off-season we’re like still hanging out with each other. I’ve never been really a part of a team that really stuck together like this one.”

On the Court

As far as the Xs and Os of the 2016-17 campaign were concerned, the last five months were rife with highs and lows. The season started with lofty aspirations and a No. 18 national ranking to go along with them, and two quick blow-out wins at home confirmed those feelings.

The script quickly flipped when the Sun Devils left Tempe for the first time and absorbed a 12-point loss to eventual Big East champion Marquette and an 82-43 drubbing at the hands of then-No. 6 Maryland on Black Friday.

The next loss on the schedule, however, wouldn’t come for another 35 days as ASU ripped off seven straight wins — including a thriller at Kentucky — to close out the non-conference slate with a 9-2 record.

The Sun Devils opened Pac-12 play with a disheartening loss to then-No. 13 Stanford but responded with four straight wins to improve to 13-3.

In the first of those four wins, a major loss occurred in the form of Moos’ foot injury, which sidelined her for the next 12 games. Without her in the rotation, the Sun Devils struggled, losing five of their next six and going 6-6 overall during her absence.

Moos returned for the season’s final four contests, two of which were wins, as ASU locked up fifth place in the Pac-12 final standings.

After the Sun Devils picked up a dominant win over Michigan State to start the NCAA Tournament, the season came to a heartbreaking finish in the second round. ASU used an 11-0 to take a one-point lead over No. 1 South Carolina, but never scored again, falling by a final of 71-68.

"This has been quite a season for this team," head coach Charli Turner Thorne said after that loss. “I'm really proud of our team. We competed incredibly well, and I could not be prouder of our basketball team."

Looking Ahead

ASU just said goodbye to one of the most successful senior classes to ever wear a Sun Devil uniform.

To fill the void of graduating seniors Sophie Brunner, Quinn Dornstauder, Moos and one-year grad transfer Hattis, a collection of players will have to step up in order for the Sun Devil tradition to carry on.

Haines will find herself with a bigger portion of the offensive workload in her junior year, and redshirt junior guard Courtney Ekmark — who transferred from UConn and sat out this season — will likely have to back up Haines in the scoring department.

Haines said that she has been waiting for her chance to lead this team.

“That’s kind of been my goal throughout these first two years is just developing my leadership,” Haines said. “This year was just a great way for me to learn through both experience and just learn from our seniors. It’s my goal to be our voice and just be that person that can amp us up, and then bring us back to reality when stuff isn’t working.”

An influx of freshmen from this past season will also mature. Point guard Reili Richardson should feel more comfortable with running the offense in year two of her Sun Devil career. A heavily-used bench will also look to improve. Freshman Kiara Russell and Robbi Ryan return next season for ASU.

“We will have expectations for ourselves,” Turner Thorne said. “I do think it’s going to be a mature team, despite the lack of seniors. I think with Courtney Ekmark stepping in, and Jamie Ruden helping, I expect us to be a great shooting team and play a little bit of small ball.”

With such pieces in place — as well as a pair of talented freshmen on its way in — there’s reason to be optimistic about the season ahead despite losing such crucial seniors.

“No doubt with the great players that we lost, we really got to be hungry and have a great off-season to maintain our standards,” Turner Thorne said.

And Turner Thorne, of course, certainly sees that potential brewing for the 2017-18 campaign, which is just about 225 days away.

But who’s counting?


Reach the reporters at jeff.griffith21@asu.edu and thandlan@asu.edu or follow @Jeff_Griffith21 and @Tyler_Handlan on Twitter.

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