(Photo: Dominic Cotroneo/WCSN)
There are two days remaining before the Arizona State women’s basketball team begins its 2016-2017 campaign.
The Sun Devils will tip things off against Illinois State Friday and then go head-to-head with San Jose State Sunday.
Last season, ASU had an outstanding regular season and collected hardware throughout the year.
Arizona State was regular season co-champions of the Pac-12 led by head coach Charli Turner Thorne, who was named Pac-12 Coach of the Year.
ASU women’s hoops finished 26-7, the third most wins in school history. Also, the team earned a number two seed in the NCAA Tournament, which is the highest in program history.
The team competed at a very high level throughout the regular season, winning 15 straight games at one point.
However, the year ended earlier than expected as the number seven seeded Tennessee Volunteers defeated ASU in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
The Sun Devils graduated five players last season: forward Eliza Normen, and guards Katie Hempen, Arnecia Hawkins, Peace Amukamara, and Elisha Davis.
The program is missing some important pieces, but they do return an experienced frontcourt with three seniors in Sophie Brunner, Quinn Dornstauder and Kelsey Moos.
Brunner is a reliable option at the forward spot. The experienced senior led ASU in scoring last season, averaging 10.7 points per contest and 7.4 rebounds.
Dornstauder provides great size at 6-foot-4 and finished first on the team in blocks. The center does not struggle finding the basket, as she averaged 9.7 points per game, the second most on the team.
In addition to the returners the Sun Devils brought in a powerful recruiting class, ranking among the top 10 in the nation and Turner Thorne has confidence in this newly constructed program.
“This is very well the deepest, fastest, and the biggest team we have ever had,” Turner Thorne said.
The program brought in four freshman guards in Kiara Russell, Sydney Goodson, Reili Richardson, Robbi Ryan, and a forward in Jamie Ruden.
In addition, the Sun Devils are adding two transfers; a graduate forward Sara Hattis and junior guard Courtney Ekmark.
Hattis graduated from Texas and is eligible to play immediately this season and is expected to bring depth to the teams low post presence.
After playing for the UConn Huskies for two seasons, Ekmark decided to join the Sun Devils. The junior guard will not be eligible to compete this season because of NCAA transferring rules, however, she will have two years of eligibility remaining.
The Pac-12 is arguably one of the best women’s basketball conferences in the nation, and six teams finished with at least 20 or more wins last season. This means the freshman will need time to adjust to the competition.
The Sun Devils are also returning sophomore guards Sabrina Haines and Armani Hawkins, and forwards Kiana Ibis and Charnae Johnson-Chapman.
The program has a diverse skill set, but Turner Throne and the coaching staff will have their work cut out, as try to assemble all the pieces to the puzzle.
“We obviously have the veterans that really help us, our new players are incredibly talented,” Turner Thorne said. “We will be able to score the basketball, so it’s about getting them defensively where we want them to be and understanding the intensity and speed of the game.”
There are high expectations for the Devils yet again as they were ranked No. 18 in the country in the Associated Press preseason poll.
The first look at Arizona State will be Friday when they take on Illinois State at 4:00 p.m in Tempe.