West Coast Conference: Loyola Marymount University

Word is out that the LMU team is having fun in practices and has an enthusiasm for their new season that they haven’t had in years.

And word is that it’s because of new Coach Charity Elliott and her staff.

Elliott took over last spring when longtime coach Julie Wilhoit was let go. She brought in coaches that she’d worked with before: Tracey Wolff, Alexis Mezzetta and former basketball great Jackie Stiles. They set about to create what Elliott characterized as a family atmosphere. It was needed.

Since a West Coast Conference championship and NCAA Tournament appearance in 2004, the LMU program steadily declined. Last year they went 8-22 overall and 3-13 in conference. It didn’t add up, however, because there were so many talented players on the roster.

Watching them on the court told the story: they were downtrodden, energy-less, uninspired.

This season should be different, according to sources. The Lions are ready for their first exhibition game Saturday, and they return most of their roster. They have also added four promising freshmen.

Senior guard/forward Alex Cowling (22.2 ppg, 8.7 rpg); junior guard Hazel Ramirez (10.2 ppg); and sophomore guard Danielle Pruitt (3.4 ppg) are returning starters. Seven reserves are back as well, which has maintained the chemistry and bonds that the team had developed.

The freshmen are all from California, and include guard/forward Chelsea Barnes, who was all all-league/state/CIF selection; Deanna Johnson, ranked 50th for point guards by Hoopgurlz; Sophie Taylor, ranked 119th for forwards; and Brianna Kennedy, and #59 forward.

LMU faces The Masters Saturday, and open regular season play at UTEP the following weekend. Other pre-conference opponents include Long Beach State, Cal State Fullerton, Iowa State, UCLA, UC Santa Barbara and Oregon State.