Bree Calhoun decided she would rather be playing basketball than cutting hair.
Because of that, the Seattle U women’s basketball team has one of the top guard tandems in the Western Athletic Conference.
Calhoun, the WAC defensive player of the year last season, and McKenzi Williams, Seattle U’s leading scorer last year and the Seattle Sports Commission Female Sports Star of the Year, will try to lead the Redhawks’ first winning season since they made the NCAA tournament in 2018.
That quest begins Tuesday in the team’s official opener against Northwest University at the Redhawk Center (Seattle U lost 78-72 to Central Washington in an exhibition game Thursday).
Calhoun, who averaged 12.7 points, 5.7 assists and 3.3 steals per game last season, can’t wait to get started. After taking three years off from basketball, the 5-foot-6 point guard has a greater appreciation for the game.
After helping Bishop Alemany High School in Los Angeles win a state basketball title, she started college that summer at San Jose State.
“Between family and life, I wasn’t ready to go to school again after high school,” said Calhoun, named to the preseason WAC second team.
She ended up going to barbering school, got her license to cut hair, and did that for a while, but then started wondering what else she could do.
“I just missed basketball so much so I reached out to (Moorpark) junior college,” Calhoun said.
That was fortuitous for both Moorpark College and Calhoun, who led the college to a 27-1 record as a sophomore.
She drew interest from several colleges, but chose Seattle U after meeting coach Suzy Barcomb and her staff.
“I want to go overseas and play (professionally),” Calhoun said. “I feel like this coaching staff has the keys to help me succeed in that way.”
But Calhoun’s focus now is on Seattle U. She disagrees with the preseason rankings that had Seattle U at No. 8 (media) and No. 9 (coaches) in the WAC.
“I think we are going to surprise a lot of people,” said Calhoun, who ranked No. 4 nationally in steals last season and 13th in assists. “I think we have a really special team and I think the bonds that we have already established are very strong. COVID kind of held us back last year, but I feel like we are going to be able to push all the way through and have a great season.”
Seattle U lost its final five games last season to finish 11-14. The Redhawks were 13-16 in 2019-20 and 3-27 in 2018-19. Injuries played a big part in those losing seasons, including two ACL tears to Williams.
But Williams showed last year she is all the way back after averaging 15.2 points and earning second-team All-WAC honors along with Calhoun.
“Both offensively and defensively, I think we get after it, and we’re able to help each other,” Calhoun said. “If either of us are having a bad game, we know how to pick each other up. … For sure, we’re the best backcourt (in the WAC).”
Calhoun also excelled in the classroom last year and was named to the All-WAC academic team.
“I feel like the time off helped me understand just get (the schoolwork) done and that school comes first,” said Calhoun, who is majoring in strategic communications and wants to work with children when she is done playing.
Barcomb is counting on big seasons from Williams and Calhoun.
“Bree has gotten much better in her second year in the program because it’s really hard to learn our system,” Barcomb said. “And McKenzi, she is now a fifth-year senior in the system.”
Barcomb said Calhoun “brings a different dimension to her team.”
“She just loves playing basketball,” Barcomb said. “Nationally ranked in steals and she gets it. She’s a good team person as well. She doesn’t set goals like scoring 25 or 30 points in a game. She cares more about assists and steals than scoring, and that’s nice in a point guard.”
Seattle U returns all of its top players from last year, and added a pair of graduate transfers from Hawaii — guard Jadynn Alexander and center Barbara Rangel — who are expected to see significant playing time.
The Redhawks would greatly benefit if senior guard Courtney Murphy and senior Hailey Vice-Neat, two of the team’s best three-point shooters, can stay healthy after battling various injuries during their careers.
“It changes the dynamics immensely when you have those two on the floor,” Barcomb said.
As a new season is set to begin, optimism reigns that this will be a winning one.
“That’s what we are striving to do in terms of all our goal-setting,” Barcomb said. “All of our meetings are centered around what do you want to accomplish and how do you go about accomplishing it. Everybody can set a goal, like, ‘I want to win the WAC,’ but are you willing to do the 55 steps in order to win the WAC?”
Three keys to the season
Some injuries during a season are expected, but the Redhawks have suffered a lot more than you would typically expect the past three seasons — all losing years. If Seattle U can stay healthy, it should exceed preseason predictions. But that’s a big if.
Shoot the three successfully
Seattle U shot 28.9% from three-point range last season and that percentage needs to get a lot higher. Coach Suzy Barcomb wants her team to shoot 38% from three-point range. If that happens, the Redhawks should have a good season.
Defend, defend, defend
Seattle U had the WAC defensive player of the year last season in Bree Calhoun, but Barcomb thought her team could have defended better in conference play. Playing good defense will keep the Redhawks in games when they aren’t shooting particularly well.
Three key games
Dec. 10 vs. Washington: Seattle U hosts its city rival at the Redhawk Center. Seattle U has come close to beating the Huskies, but has yet to do so (0-10).
Dec. 30 at New Mexico State: The Redhawks open the WAC season against the Aggies, picked to finish seventh in the conference. A win on the road to start the conference season would be huge for Seattle U.
Jan. 2 vs. California Baptist: Seattle U hosts the preseason conference favorite three days after playing at New Mexico State. If Seattle U could open the season 2-0, it would make an early statement that it can contend for a conference title.