This is the eleventh in an annual series previewing the Pac-12 teams.
If there is a theme for Arizona State this season, it is “new.”
They lost five players last spring, including three starters, and now have a senior-less team of five juniors, four sophomores and two freshmen. The Sun Devils graduated their entire front court – Sophie Brunner, Quinn Dornstauder and Kelsey Moos – which means coach Charli Turner Thorne is figuring out how best to utilize her new personnel. She said the makeup of the team is new territory for her.
“In my 21st season at Arizona State, I can honestly say this will be the youngest team that I’ve ever coached probably at any school, but certainly in my 21 years at ASU,” Turner Thorne said. “I think it’s kind of a fun blend. We don’t have any seniors, but we’re really built with some tremendous juniors and sophomores, and we’re excited about it.”
Not only is the roster new, but so is half of the coaching staff. First-year assistants are Angie Nelp and former Sun Devil star Briann January, and Turner Thorne’s special assistant is Terri Mitchell, who coached with Marquette and will help analyze film and create game plans.
A bright spot for ASU is that their trio of fierce young guards return: sophomore Reili Richardson (8.4 points, 3.8 assists per game), junior Sabrina Haines (6.9 points, 2.4 assists per game) and sophomore Robbi Ryan (6.5 points per game). The energy from all three set the pace for the team last season, provided an impetus through an injury period, and helped drive the squad into the NCAA Tournament second round with physical play.
Junior forward Kianna Ibis (5.3 points, 3.8 rebounds per game), sophomore guard Kiara Russell (4.7 points per game) and sophomore forward Jamie Ruden (3.9 points per game) are also back.
Turner Thorne said her returnees have grown by leaps and bounds since last season.
“I know a lot of you were enamored by our incredible back-court guards last year,” she said to reporters on Pac-12 media day. “Very, very young, and of course Sabrina and our three newbles. Last year they didn’t know what they didn’t know, but now they know. So Sabrina, Robbi Ryan, Reili Richardson, Kiara Russell are a year older, a year wider, have really grown immensely, and we’re super-excited about how we’re coming together.”
The Sun Devils will get a boost from two junior transfers: guard/forward Courtney Ekmark, who played at the University of Connecticut and sat out last year per transfer rules; and France native Sophia Elenga, who played her first two years at Cochise College in Arizona.
Freshmen include guard/forward Bre’yanna Sanders, from Fresno, Calif., and center Eva Rubin, from Illinois.
Haines said the returners and newcomers are blending well.
“We have such a great group right now, and incredible players,” she said. “We have all been working in the gym. The coaches have been helping us get better every single day. I’m more confident in myself and….our team. And just knowing we’re about to start a great season and hopefully build off what we left off…..last postseason.”
Turner Thorne said she is still making lineup decisions, and they could be guard-heavy.
“You’ll just have to watch and see,” she said. “You know what, I’m not going to rule it out. Certainly small ball, we’ve had some of our best seasons. Some of our best seasons ever were small ball.”