Pac-12 preview: Oregon State University

This is the second in an annual series previewing the Pac-12 teams

Oregon State coach Scott Rueck has had quite a journey since taking over the program four years ago. With one player left, he built the team back up from scratch. A few departed after that first year, and in the second, a core formed. The Beavers notched some key victories, posted a winning record, and Rueck was named by media as Pac-12 coach of the year. Then last year, decimation occurred.

Injury after injury hobbled the OSU roster, striking key players and resulting in loss after loss. The Beavers finished 10-21 and tenth in conference. Then they graduated six seniors.

This season the team is reborn again, and Rueck seems to again be piloting a brand new ship. Of the seven returning players, only two are upperclasswomen: senior guard Alyssa Martin (7.2 ppg, 3.8 ppg) and junior guard Ali Gibson (9.1 ppg). The rest of the returnees are sophomores: guard Jamie Weisner (12.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg), forward Deven Hunter (4.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg), center Ruth Hamblin (4.4 ppg), forward Samantha Siegner (3.8 ppg) and guard Khadidja Toure (2.6 ppg).

Rueck said he is looking to Martin and Gibson for leadership, but noted that the entire team is carrying the load.

“When you have only one senior and one junior, you obviously point to the two that have been here the longest for leadership,” Rueck said. “Alyssa Martin has been a three-year starter for us, has been through everything and seen it all. Ali Gibson is a two-year starter for us who has made so many big plays for us over the past couple of seasons.”

“But what I love about this group is it’s coming from everywhere. There are certainly times for each person to step up. I love the example our upperclassmen are setting, but our sophomores went through so many things last year that they’re displaying it too. This is a highly-functioning group of mature 18-22-year-olds.”

Four freshmen join the team this year: forward/center Breanna Brown, of Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, Calif.; guard Sydney Wiese of Pinnacle High School in Phoenix, Ariz.; guard Gabriella Hanson of Troy High School in Anaheim, Calif.; and forward Kolbie Orum of Maple Ridge Secondary School in Maple Ridge, British Columbia. Brown and Wiese were ranked in the top 100 of the class of 2013. Hanson has played for the Swedish National team, and Orum has played for the Canadian National Team.

“We’re really excited about our freshman class,” Rueck said. “All four bring such dynamic backgrounds, and they’ve all won a lot.”

OSU’s biggest pre-conference challenge will be at a Thanksgiving Bahamas tournament, where they’ll face Penn State and either Floria or Illinois State on the second day. They’ll also take on Notre Dame, Clemson and Creighton before beginning Pac-12 play.

Players are optimistic about the season.

“We’re young right now, but I think this is a chance for everyone to grow up quickly,” Martin said. “We all get along really well, and I think it’s going to be a good year.”