FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - New coach. Roster turnover. One double-digit win season in the last five years. Throw all of that out. This is a new era of Northern Arizona women's basketball.
The expectations are not high from outsiders. The Big Sky head coaches and media do not think highly of the Lumberjacks with their 11th and 12th place selections in the preseason polls.
Yet there are some things people outside the locker room do not know. The drive, the hunger and the passion to change the perception of this Lumberjack program is high and that could be a dangerous recipe for success to those who least expect it. Not to mention, the 'Jacks have a few hidden weapons in their arsenal in the form of some unfamiliar faces - both young and old - who will are eager to impress.
"This team wants to take on individual responsibility - but individual with the goals of working collectively as a team - to go out and show the conference that the last few years isn't representative of NAU Basketball," said interim head coach Robyne Bostick. "We're looking to go out and prove people wrong. With our position in the preseason polls, there isn't any pressure on us, so that should allow us to just play and focus on each game."
Bostick is now in charge on an interim basis for the 2016-17 season and is determined to guide the program to renewed heights. An assistant on the NAU staff for the last four seasons, Bostick may be a first-time head coach but is far from an inexperienced Division I coach. Bostick has previously served on the staffs at James Madison, Vanderbilt, Air Force, Princeton and Long Island.
At her disposal is a strong and experienced senior class, who just three years ago made up two-thirds of the roster. Coming in as a freshman class of eight, five have survived and are poised to thrive in their fourth and final season.
"I really like the experience that we have on our team led by our six seniors - five of whom have had a lot of playing time over their last three years," Bostick said. "I really like our depth and each player has an opportunity to contribute in different ways."
The senior class is led by guards Rene Coggins and Brittani Lusain, who were thrust into the starting lineup from their first seasons and have been mainstays over the course of their careers. The pair have combined to start 130 games entering their senior seasons and are strong candidates to become the 14th and 15th members of the school's 1,000 point club.
While Coggins and Lusain were immediate contributors to the program, the team's remaining three four-year seniors - Bradlee Cotton, Taylor Leyva and Catelyn Preston - relished the opportunity to shine last year. Each of the three posted breakout seasons, and will combine with Coggins and Lusain to form a formidable core.
"Last year was huge for (Taylor, Bradlee and Catelyn)," Bostick said. "In the past, they were able to defer to upperclassmen whether it was Amanda Frost, Erikka Banks or Raven Anderson. They could always look up to a senior, but last year it was up to them and they were put in positions to play a little more."
Joining the senior class will be walk-on Chelena Betoney, who was an accomplished prep player herself in the state of Arizona.
NAU will also be boosted by redshirt juniors Olivia Lucero and Kenna McDavis, who are anxious to make their Lumberjack debuts after redshirt seasons a year ago. Do not forget about sophomore Kaleigh Paplow, who had the highest scoring game by any player in the Big Sky last year.
With a nice blend of veterans and youth, the Lumberjacks are equipped to finally put an end to nine consecutive losing seasons. NAU last posted a winning season coincidentally 10 years ago, which also happens to be the last time the Lumberjacks made it as far as the tournament championship game.
Sure there are skeptics, and why would there not be after NAU's lack of recent success? But never discount a team's ambition to do something no one sees coming.
The program may have undergone some massive changes since the 'Jacks were last seen on the court in Reno, Nev. in March. However, the heart of a Lumberjack and the pride for the Blue & Gold has never been stronger.
So sleep on NAU if you must. This year, there are no excuses. As this year's 'Jacks will say, "it's on us."
"Rene Coggins has led our guards for three years. All of our guards can do different things. We're looking to push the ball a little more in transition, and we have players like Olivia Lucero and Raina Perez who can do that. They are also three of our better three-point shooters, so that's going to give us a little more of an inside-out look that will be a little different from the past when we were more post-oriented." - Bostick
- Coggins is NAU's leading returning scorer after averaging a career-best 11.1 points per game last season. Coggins started 29 of 30 games - a team-high - and was one of the conference's most lethal three-point shooters at 36.9 percent. The Third Team Academic All-American ranked eighth in the conference in three-point percentage and drilled 52 three-pointers, which was the seventh highest single season total in school history. Coggins enters her senior season ninth in school history in career three-pointers made with 106.
- Accompanying Coggins in the back court will be Lusain, who returns to the squad after playing in only the first 11 games last season and missing the entire conference slate. Lusain, who started all 11 games she appeared in a year ago, averaged 9.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game as a junior. Lusain is already sixth in program history with 298 career assists with one final season remaining.
- NAU will also finally be able to enjoy the skillset of Lucero, who will see time at both the one and two positions. The versatile lefty played two seasons at Loyola Marymount before sitting out last year due to NCAA transfer rules.
- On the wing, the Lumberjacks will employ Leyva and Paplow. Leyva broke out in a big way last season, averaging career-highs across the board including 8.3 points per game on 37.7 percent shooting from behind the arc. Paplow averaged 8.7 points per game and dropped 36 points on Weber State last season setting a new single game NAU freshman scoring record.
- Sophomore Passionate Amukmara is the team's final returnee in the back court and will be counted on to create havoc on the defensive end. She averaged 2.3 points per game and started two of the final three games last season including the team's Big Sky Tournament matchup. Her former high school teammate, freshman Raina Perez joins her at NAU after being named to the Arizona All-State Second Team in her final prep season.
- Betoney will also be in the mix in the back court. Betoney was the MaxPreps Player of the Year in Arizona as a senior in high school.
"Our fowards are going to be asked to rebound, defend and run the floor a little more this year. Bradlee Cotton does a lot of the little things for us and sets a great example. Everyone else is learning a lot from her, especially our freshmen Va'e Malufau and Peyton Carroll." - Bostick
- The Lumberjack post players will be anchored by Cotton, who started a career-high 12 games and was one of three players to appear in all 30 contests last season. The hard-nosed Cotton is a strong rebounder and defender and is the team's most experienced true post.
- Preston brings a versatile game to NAU's group of forwards. Preston evolved as an outside threat, shooting 34.7 percent on three-point attempts last season, and averaged 5.1 points per game. Her career-best scoring average came in a season with a career-best 14 starts.
- Like Preston, McDavis adds three-point shooting ability to the forwards group and will definitely play the role of the stretch-four. However, the Boise State transfer will also surprise folks with her underrated skill set in the low post as she readies for her first season with the Lumberjacks.
- Rounding out NAU's roster are a trio of freshmen forwards. Peyton Carroll is the team's tallest player at 6-2 and was an All-State Honorable Mention player in Oregon, as was Va'e Malufau in her home state of Hawaii. Meanwhile, Brianna Lehew continues to rehab from a knee injury, but was an Arizona Division II First Team selection as a senior.