ASU women's basketball ready to build off of recent success entering new season

After a disappointment a year ago, the new-look Sun Devils have talent, optimsim and a fresh start

This time a year ago, ASU women’s basketball head coach Charli Turner Thorne knew there was one opponent in particular that she did not want to face in the postseason.

Her team had high expectations and ended up achieving and exceeding them. The Sun Devils finished 16-2 in the Pac-12 and 26-7 overall en route to a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, which allowed them to host their first and second round games.

But Turner Thorne knew from the beginning that she did not want to face the Tennessee Volunteers – a historically elite program with a wealth of battle-tested talent that earned a No. 7 seed in the tournament – as her team eventually would in the round of 32.

“Tennessee was probably the team going into the season that I feared playing the most, more than UConn,” she said. “We don’t match up with them. We couldn’t guard them. It was the worst possible matchup for us. They stepped up, they were peaking.

“I’m still not over the fact that Tennessee was a seven seed,” she added. “Never in the history of college basketball has a team that good been seeded that low. It was an absolute travesty.”

Turner Thorne's concerns eventually became reality. The Volunteers came into Tempe, stunned the Sun Devils, and brought one of the best seasons, and best four-year runs by a senior class in program history, to a sudden, stinging halt.

“It was super disappointing for us,” Turner Thorne said. “Our excuses were many — it took a lot out of us to go 16-2 in the best conference in the country. Were we the better team? Yeah. Did we play like it? No. We just weren’t able to peak. We were tired, we were worn out. It just caught up with us.”

Fast-forward about seven months.

A new season is set to begin on Friday for ASU women’s basketball, and while the Sun Devils — who are slotted eighteenth in the preseason AP top 25 — have many new faces, they’re prepared to bring the same excitement and success that made their 2015-16 campaign so special.

And though that optimism may come with a few question marks regarding the new-look nature of this year’s roster, just getting back on the court is enough to excite a new-look group that is ready to build on last season’s historic run, starting with Friday night’s clash with Illinois State.

"We're definitely excited that it's game week, we're really looking forward to it," senior forward Kelsey Moos said. "It's nice that games are here, and we can start coming together out on the floor for real."

Although the Sun Devils graduated a stellar quintet of seniors that included three of their top five scorers — Katie HempenElisha Davis and Arnecia Hawkins — as well as almost half of their total scoring.

A trio of seniors that includes last year’s top two scorers, Sophie Brunner and Quinn Dornstauder, as well as Moos, will fill those leadership roles, and be joined by Texas graduate transfer, 6-foot-4 senior forward Sara Hattis.

The three seniors that have been a part of the ASU program since their freshman year got their first taste of missing their goals as juniors a year ago.

“For the seniors, they didn’t know coming up short,” Turner Thorne said. “They had always kind of exceeded expectations. That was their first taste of, like, ‘oh, what happened to you guys?’ (from the media). That’s never a bad thing, coming back the next year, a little extra hunger.”

Also filling the void left by the graduating seniors will be a nationally-acclaimed recruiting class of five talented players. The most notable of which, 5-foot-8 Kiara Russell, should see a wealth of playing time at the point guard position.

Russell is one of four different freshman guards; the other three include 5-foot-11 Reili Richardson, 5-foot-8 Sydney Goodson and 5-foot-9 Robbi Ryan.

Rounding out the incoming class is 6-foot-1 forward Jamie Ruden, who, like Richardson, hails from Minnesota. 

According to the more experienced members of their team, this freshman class brings a lot of character, personality and of course, talent.

"They're a really fun group, to be honest," Brunner said. "But they're young. They all work hard, they come everyday wanting to work hard, they're putting the work in."

The pieces, clearly, are in place for another memorable run, building off the success of recent years.

Now, it’s just time to put it on the court.

And — as basketball coaches, players and fans all over the country and within the ASU program in particular will attest — that’s something to be very excited about.

Related Links 

ASU men's and women's basketball ignite 2016-17 season at Mill Madness

Video: Meet ASU men's basketball freshman guard Sam Cunliffe


Reach the reporter at jeff.griffith21@asu.edu or follow @Jeff_Griffith21 on Twitter.

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