Senior point guard Karlee Wilson isn’t fazed by preseason polls, rankings or seedings.
“We talked as a team after the polls came out,” she said. “It’s great to be honored and recognized as a program but that’s based on what we did last year. It should give us motivation to come back in the preseason and work even harder to prove to everybody that that’s where we should be.”
The Idaho women’s basketball team was picked to finish first in the Big Sky Tuesday by coaches in the BSC. The coaches gave Idaho four first-place votes.
The media poll picked Idaho to finish second, with Montana State in first.
Sanford said the team has a few spots to fill. Idaho lost five seniors at the end of last season.
“We have those little holes,” Sanford said. “But I think we have great leadership.”
Sanford said a few players worked through injuries in the offseason.
Junior post Brooke Reilly returns to play after taking a redshirt last season. Sanford said Reilly will be another team leader this season.
Freshman Daylee Hanson is working to fill graduate Christina Salvatore’s role as a rebounding, scoring defender, Sanford said.
“I see Daylee Hanson coming in and doing some slasher defense for us,” Sanford said. “Some things Christina did with her length.”
Overall Sanford is not worried about filling the roster.
“We’ve got plenty of scorers,” Sanford said. “It’s going to be a team effort I think. Any given night anyone can step up.”
Idaho added four freshmen to the 2016-2017 season roster. Freshman guard Jenae Lewallen was a four-year starter at Liberty High School in Surprise, Arizona.
Sanford called Lewallen “feisty.”
Lewallen holds the Liberty HS school record for most 3-point shots in one game, seven, and in a season, 72. She is the first Liberty girl’s basketball player to receive a Division 1 basketball scholarship.
Lewallen is majoring in Fire Ecology and Management.
The Columbian named freshman guard Cherita Daugherty All-Region Girls Basketball Player of the Year in her hometown of Vancouver, Washington. She also ran track in high school and would like to be a surgeon.
Sanford said Daugherty and senior point guard Karlee Wilson have been working together in the role.
“She’s got skill,” Sanford said.
Freshman post Isabelle Hadden, of Boise, was a First Team All-Conference selection twice at Boise High School. She was chosen as the Braves’ Most Valuable Player in 2014 and 2015. Her mother, Sandy, was a volleyball player at Boise State. Isabelle is an undeclared major.
Freshman guard Daylee Hanson grew up in a basketball family. Her father, Scott, played collegiate basketball at Chaminade and her older sister, Savanna, plays at Santa Clara.
The Edmonds, Washington, native was the 2016 Cascade League MVP and averaged 11.3 points per game. Daylee also played volleyball for King’s High School. She is a general studies major.
Wilson said her job as a senior is to make the new members feel comfortable.
“It’s really nice to have them come in and know they’re going to make a difference for our team,” she said. “They’re trying to learn how we play. “It’s kinda our job to make sure that they’re comfortable coming into a new atmostphere away from home.”
Wilson said the team knows the season will be a challenge.
“We know we have to work just as hard to come back and win another conference championship,” she said. “We are working just as hard as we did before.”
This year, Eastern Washington and Idaho play on Friday nights, rather than Thursdays, to encourage the regional rivalry.
Sanford and Idaho head men’s basketball coach Don Verlin support the move.
“We’ve always battled against them,” Sanford said. “I think that’s going to be great when we can get more students involved. With it being so close, there’s no reason not to have 4,000 or more fans here.”
Wilson and Sanford both agreed community support, from Reno to Moscow, is important.
“Having friends and family there to support us at a neutral site … it was great,” Wilson said of the Big Sky Tournament in Reno. “We filled up like most of that arena. It was really nice to have everybody at one place cheering us on.”
Wilson said the community has taken even more interest in Idaho basketball since last season.
Junior forward Geraldine McCorkell was selected as a preseason All-Big Sky player.
Sanford said McCorkell is working hard in the offseason.
Idaho won the 2016 Big Sky Tournament as the third seed and 13-5 conference record. The Vandals finished 24-10 overall. Idaho took on Baylor in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, losing 89-59 March 18 in Waco. This was the Vandals’ third March Madness trip in four years.
Montana State finished 21-8 overall and 14-4 in conference play.
The Bobcats were knocked out of the BSC Tournament by Idaho State.
Montana State gathered six first-place votes from the media poll and was chosen for third in the coaches’ poll.
Montana placed third in the media poll and fourth in the coaches’ poll. Eastern Washington ranked third by the media with three first-place votes and fifth by the coaches.
The coaches picked North Dakota to finish second with four first-place votes. Theand the media selected the Fighting Hawks to finish fifth.
After upsetting Montana State in the BSC Tournament, ninth-seed Idaho State went on to battle the Vandals for the championship. The Bengals were picked sixth by coaches’ and media polls.
Sacramento State, Weber State, Northern Colorado and Portland State were picked for seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth respectively by both polls.
Southern Utah placed 11th in the media poll and 12th in the coaches’ poll. Northern Arizona followed ranked in 12th place of the media poll and led in 11th in the coaches’ poll.
The media poll was made of Big Sky media members and sports information directors. The Big Sky head coaches voted in the coaches’ poll. They were not allowed to vote for their team.
Tess Fox at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tesstakesphotos