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Seattle U women finally healthy, looking to exceed expectations

Seattle University women’s basketball coach Suzy Barcomb understands why her team, which opens its season Wednesday at home against Portland, was picked to finish in sixth place by the coaches in the nine-team Western Athletic Conference this season.

Barcomb points to the fact that the two leading scorers from last season – Kamira Sanders and Joana Alves – have graduated.

That said, Barcomb is much more bullish on her team than the forecasters are. Part of that is because the team is the healthiest it has been in two seasons, she said. The most recent bit of good news came when junior guard McKenzi Williams, who suffered an ACL injury late last season, was cleared to return to action.

“We’re super excited to get her back on the floor,” Barcomb said of Williams, who played at Auburn Riverside High School and averaged 7.5 points per game. “Getting her back was pretty important for us.”

Williams was fifth on the team in scoring average last season. Also returning are the team’s third-leading scorer, junior guard Courtney Murphy (11.0) and the fourth-leading scorer, junior forward Hailey Vice-Neat (8.8).

Murphy was a preseason All-WAC second-team pick by both the coaches and the media, and Williams was a second-team pick by the coaches. Murphy is known for her three-point shooting, but Barcomb said Murphy has made great progess “attacking the basket.”

It’s the depth of the team, though, that has Barcomb excited.

“I think we are nine or 10 deep this year without a falloff,” said Barcomb, who said her starting lineup could be fluid and based on the opponent. “And, it is probably the best-shooting three-ball team we have had. Before, we’ve had one or two (who could shoot the three) and a couple of slashers, so it has been easier to defend us.”

One of the biggest tasks this season will be to replace Alves’ production in the post. She averaged 12.9 points, and a team-high 6.6 rebounds.

Georgia Kehoe, a 6-foot-3 sophomore forward from Australia, who Barcomb said “has made great strides,” should get more playing time with Alves gone. Maddy Phillips, another 6-3 sophomore from Australia, should also get more opportunities.

Barcomb expects the team to get a boost from junior guard Bree Calhoun, a transfer from Moorpark (Calif.) College. As a sophomore at Moorpark, she averaged 17.7 points, 8.6 assists and 5.6 steals per game while leading her team to a 27-1 record.

It has been a tough two years for the team since Barcomb took the Redhawks to their first-ever NCAA tournament after the 2017-18 season. The team finished 3-27 the next season after it was riddled with injuries.

The Redhawks had injury issues again last season, but seem poised to make a run in the WAC tournament in March after an easy 61-48 win over No. 2 seed Utah Valley in its opener. But that was the final game of the season for Seattle U (13-16) as the event was canceled because of the coronavirus. It was a tough way to finish.

Barcomb said a virtual team banquet helped put some closure to the season, and she was also heartened that three of the seniors on that team are continuing to play: Olivia Crawford signed a pro contract in Iceland, Joana Alves signed a deal in Spain and Carla Bieg is playing for the University of Essex in England.

“I don’t even know if I am still over it because we were playing at such a high level,” Barcomb said of the abrupt end of the season.

Barcomb is excited to see what this year’s team can do. Unlike most seasons, there have been no exhibitions or scrimmages against other teams.

“We just need need to play,” she said. “Before, you could kind of work out your kinks, but everyone is in the same boat.”

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