Success comes with heightened expectations and as the Seattle U women’s basketball team opens its 2017-18 campaign Friday against Idaho State.

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In Suzy Barcomb’s first season as coach of the Seattle University women’s basketball team, it surprised the Western Athletic Conference by finishing tied for second in the regular season and fighting its way to the championship game before falling to New Mexico State.

The Redhawks’ season ended in a defeat to Wyoming in the WNIT’s first round – a respectable finish for a team with a new head coach that was predicted to finish second-to-last in the WAC’s preseason poll.

Success comes with heightened expectations, however, and as Seattle U opens its 2017-18 campaign Friday against Idaho State, there’s a sense of cautious optimism around the program.

Seattle U women

Coach: Suzy Barcomb (second year)

2016-17: 15-18 overall, 10-4 WAC (2nd)

Starters returning: 2

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Alexis Montgomery, F, 5-10, sr. – Montgomery is SU’s best and most experienced player. She was named preseason WAC Player of the Year and averaged 15.4 points per game. As a former high school point guard, she still plays forward with the creativity of a point guard and her versatility is one of her biggest assets.

Kamira Sanders, G, 5-7, soph. – Sanders, the reigning WAC Freshman of the Year, averaged 32.6 minutes in her freshman season and led all conference freshmen in points (7.2 ppg), rebounds (3.7), assists (1.9) and steals (1.6). She originally set out to play at Humboldt State but signed with Seattle U after Barcomb hired Humboldt state coaches Jodie and Skip Gleason to join her staff.

THE SKINNY

Youth is the Redhawks’ main concern as they open their season. Seattle U returns only two starters from the team that played in the WAC championship game. With six freshmen and four sophomores, the Redhawks’ inexperience was exposed during the three friendlies they played on a training trip to Europe this summer. They also begin the season dealing with five injured players. Still, they were picked to finish third in the WAC’s preseason coaches poll, and with Montgomery and Sanders back, and Jacinta Beckley moving into the starting lineup, SU has a strong core.

Stefanie Loh

Last season’s WNIT berth marked Seattle U’s third postseason appearance in program history. But the Redhawks’ surprisingly strong finish has set a higher standard for Barcomb’s follow-up act.

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“It would have been easier if we’d finished fifth and maybe played a really good first-round game,” Barcomb joked. “I do think it’s a challenge when you have success in Year 1. There’s a very interesting dichotomy that happens with that.”

The Redhawks return two starters and a key backup from last year. Fifth-year senior forward Alexis Montgomery started every game last season and led the team in scoring (15.4 ppg), rebounding (8.3) and assists (2.6). She was named the WAC’s preseason Player of the Year, and is primed for a big senior season.

“She worked in the offseason really hard on her conditioning,” Barcomb said. “She changed her diet, became a much healthier eater, and just continued to work on her overall game.”

Sophomore guard Kamira Sanders also started every game last year and finished her first season as the WAC freshman of the year. She returns better equipped for the rigors of Division I basketball after a year of seasoning.

“Kamira has always relied on just sheer athleticism to play well, and now, Kamira has a better IQ for the game,” Barcomb said. “She’s expanded her game. There’s a natural maturation that happens with all freshmen, and we’re looking for Kamira to have a great sophomore campaign.”

Senior center Jacinta Beckley played in 25 games last season, starting 10, and hit her stride as the Redhawks began conference play. But her season came to a premature end in February, when she broke her hand. Beckley had surgery and had a plate and eight screws inserted into her left hand and did not get cleared to play again until the Redhawks’ WNIT game against Wyoming.

“It was a long, slow process that was super frustrating,” Beckley said. “And the day I got cleared, I played at Wyoming. I hadn’t practiced, I had shoot-around and was thrown straight in and was very rusty.”

This year the Redhawks need Beckley to be their stable force in the post.

The 6-foot senior from Paraparaumu, New Zealand, has the perfect skill set to be the undersized center for Barcomb’s Princeton offense, but is also an effective power forward.

“She has the ability to go off the bounce, and any time you can go off the bounce and shoot the three, it gives you a leg up in your game,” Barcomb said.

The Redhawks caught the WAC off guard when they unveiled their complicated Princeton offense at the start of conference play, but now, their competition has caught on.

By the end of conference play last season, “I think they started figuring out our options,” Beckley said.

However, the Redhawks only unveiled a portion of their offense last season, in part because the coaching staff tried to keep things simple in their first year.

“Last year we couldn’t advance Princeton enough because there’s a book this thick of all Princeton plays,” Barcomb said, holding her forefinger and thumb four inches apart. “You can make it as simple as you want, or as complex and detailed as you want.

“We’re much more evolved in our Princeton offense now. The more you play it, the more you get it and the more you understand the nuances of Princeton.”

The Princeton offense emphasizes constant movement and passing and requires players to understand how to read the defense.

Beckley said she’d never played it before last year, but that it came to her pretty quickly once practices got going.

In Year 2, Beckley, Sanders and Montgomery are much more familiar with the offense, but the challenge now is to get the six freshmen up to speed.

“Last year, what I said was that we’ll be as good as the seniors’ buy-in, and clearly that happened because of our success,” Barcomb said. “This year, for us, it’s going to be, ‘How quickly do we get one or two in that sophomore class or one or two in the freshman class to be ready to play significant minutes?’ That’s something we can build on.”