Westmont counting on youngsters to step up

Angel Blanco

Elizabeth Evancoe

Westmont College has done a 180 on the basketball court this year, going from an experienced, veteran women’s squad to a youthful, untested bunch.

Amber Stevens and Jessica Case, a pair of four-year starters in the backcourt, graduated from last year’s 18-13 squad that started with a 10-1 run. The Warriors dropped a narrow 68-66 decision to No. 3 Vanguard in the GSAC Final, ending their string of three straight NAIA National appearances.

The Warriors will have to replace 58 percent of their scoring and nearly 50 percent of the rebounds from a year ago. Ten of the 14 players are freshmen or sophomores.

Westmont junior Katie Kittles is the Warriors' leading returning scorer.

“We’re young but very talented,” said sixth-year coach Kirsten Moore, who’s eight wins shy of her 100th at Westmont (92-60). “Team unity will be a key. We need to find our roles while gaining experience and confidence. And we need to get it done on the boards.”

Angel Blanco, a 5-11 forward, and 5-9 Elizabeth Evancoe are the only seniors. Blanco averaged 11.8 points and nearly seven rebounds last season and Evancoe scored 7.3.

Junior guard Katie Kittle is a returning starter, along with Blanco and Evancoe. Kittle started 29 games as a sophomore, averaging 9.0 points, 5.1 boards and was second on the team in steals.

The team will be tested early with an exhibition on Monday at Pepperdine, followed by a three-game trip to Oregon (Nov. 5-8) that features an exhibition against the Pac-10 Ducks on Nov. 7.

“That will be fun to go back and play at Oregon,” said Moore, who earned a full scholarship after walking on at Oregon and became team captain. “It’s going to be one of the last games at Mac Court before they open their new arena.”

Westmont was picked to finish fifth in the GSAC Coaches’ Preseason Poll. The conference is one of the best in the nation with four teams ranked in the top 17, including No. 2 Azusa Pacific.

The Warriors will host two ranked NAIA teams in the nonconference schedule, taking on No. 14 Trevecca Nazarene (Tenn.) on Nov. 22 and No. 9 Westminster (Utah) on Dec. 29-30 in the GSAC Challenge.

Kittle, Blanco and Evancoe will be in the starting lineup on Monday at Pepperdine, along with 5-9 sophomore Larissa Hensley, who moved to point guard this year, and 6-2 junior Lisa Peterson, a transfer from UC Davis.

“Lisa will be a presence in the post,” said Moore of Peterson, a two-time All-State performer in high school. “We’re pleased with her progress.”

Moore added a lot of size this year (five players over 6 feet) and rebounding will be a priority, along with the inside-outside attack that flows from the triangle offense.

Other key players are 6-2 sophomore Tawny McCain; sophomore Vanessa Farias, who led the team in 3-point percentage (38.4) last year; 6-1 freshman Kelsie Sampson and freshman point guard Erin Beadle, who was the Sea View League co-MVP a year ago and led Irvine Woodbridge to a CIF championship in her junior campaign.

“Our goals are to get to the NAIA Tournament and lead the conference in rebounding,” Moore noted. “Balance will be a strength since everyone is capable of being a threat.”