The anticipation and enthusiasm has been building on another Menlo Women's Basketball season, with the Lady Oaks prime to take the California Pacific Conference by storm. For the past four years now, Menlo has finished second in the conference with their last championship coming back in the 2006-07 season when the Lady Oaks rolled off an undefeated Cal Pac campaign. Now in her fourth season at the helm, Head Coach Shannon Osborne has been in charge of three of those second place marks, but thanks to a steady combination of productive returners, and a fiery incoming class of seven, Menlo finds themselves with chance to finally get over the hump and accomplish some pretty special things in 2011-12.
Atop the list of burning questions as we enter this year's campaign, is how will the loss of three productive seniors impact the Lady Oaks in 2011-12? Menlo said goodbye to two-time 1st Team All-Cal Pac and 2009-10 conference Defensive Player of the Year Stephanie Truong, last year's conference Newcomer of the Year and 1st teamer Monique Ayers-Calvello, and the all-time single season rebounding champion Elisa Ayala. Despite the three significant losses, Coach Osborne is confident that this year's team has the chips in place to fill the void, starting with Menlo's core of veteran leadership.
"We expect our returners to fill that gap and increase their stats from last year with more minutes this season," commented Osborne on her experienced returners. Headlining this list is the dynamic senior duo of Erika Garcia and Brittany Taylor. Garcia is coming off a brilliant 2010-11 season in which she earned 1st Team All-Cal Pac recognition, finishing second on the team with 11.9 points per game to go along with 5.6 boards a contest. As far as this year is concerned, the sky's the limit. "Erika has worked really hard over the summer, she wants to be the best," claimed Osborne. "She is leading by example and leading by doing."
For Taylor, a four-year player in her last go around with the Oaks, she has shown the ability to do it all throughout her Menlo career. Last year Taylor led the team in minutes played at 33.5 a contest, while serving as the only player to start in all 31 games, averaging 8.8 points per game along the way. Taylor is also one of four team captains this year along with the aforementioned Garcia, as well as Corie Thompson and Jenna Marinaro.
In addition to the captains, the Lady Oaks have found further veteran leadership in four year players Bryanna Batts and Brittany Simmons to go along with Taylor. This wealth of experience should bode well for Menlo as they start this year's journey. "Our four year players really understand our system and expectations," remarked Coach Osborne. "They are doing a great job of conveying these expectations to the new players."
Donnenwirth enters her Oaks tenure after a storied high school career at El Camino High School in Sacramento that saw her win League MVP as well as taking home 2nd Team All-State honors. Limcaco, a 5'6" guard, finished her high school tenure as a First Team All-Delta River League distinction, as well as a 2nd Team All-Metro selection from the Sacramento area. She possesses great speed and can shoot the lights out, while Adamek and her imposing 6'2" size, promises to be a force to be reckoned with all year long.
As a whole, Osborne's incoming players appear to have a bright future ahead of them. "They are all really hard workers which are one of the things we look for in the recruiting process," said the fourth year head coach. "They are coming in with a high skill level and a great work ethic, and so far they have hit the ground running."
The potential for an outstanding 2011-12 season is there and the Lady Oaks are ready to kick things off this weekend in the Holy Names tournament.
Top 5 Things to Watch For:
1. Powerful Senior Pair of Erika Garcia and Brittany Taylor- Garcia and Taylor enter the 2011-12 campaign as the Oaks' backbone in what are their final years in Menlo blue. Garcia is coming off a 1st Team All-Cal Pac 2010-11 season, averaging 11.9 points per game while Taylor led last year's team in minutes played and was the only Lady Oak to start in all 31 games. Both are team captains and if Menlo is to accomplish special things this year, it will more than likely be Garcia and Taylor paving the way.
2. Replacing last year's dominant senior production- Yes, Menlo said goodbye to two-time 1st Team All-Cal Pac and 2009-10 conference Defensive Player of the Year Stephanie Truong, last year's conference Newcomer of the Year and 1st teamer Monique Ayers-Calvello, and the all-time single season rebounding champion in Elisa Ayala, but there is confidence that there is plenty of production to go around. According to Head Coach Shannon Osborne, "We hit recruiting hard and brought in seven new players. We did lose a lot of scoring and rebounding, but we brought in players that could fill the void." Look for newcomers Lauren Adamek, Laurel Donnenwirth, and Tori Conley to play a role in filling the scoring and rebounding gap.
3. Getting over the hump- It's been four straight years of second place California Pacific Conference finishes for the Lady Oaks, the last three under the direction of Coach Osborne. Menlo heads into the 2011-12 year looking to get the monkey off their back and take the conference crown.
4. Challenging out of conference schedule- Make no mistake about it, the Lady Oaks are challenging themselves early and often. 4 GSAC schools, 5 NAIA DI schools, 2 NCAA DII schools, and matchups against 6th ranked Freed-Hardeman and 16th ranked Corban are all part of Menlo's slate of early season contests.
5. Tournament Tested- Before the California Pacific Conference Tournament for all the marbles at the end of the season, the Lady Oaks will play in four non-conference tournaments to gear themselves for their run at a conference title. They go on the road for three difficult tournaments, before hosting their own on December 29th and 30th with NAIA powerhouses Fresno Pacific, Freed-Hardeman, and Holy Names taking the Haynes-Prim Pavilion Court. For Head Coach Shannon Osbrone, "The tournaments do a good job of preparing us for post season. You have to regroup quickly and start preparing for your next opponent."