Jun 24, 2019

Heavy lies the crown

Juan Villa / Collegian File Photo

Bulldogs begin conference title defense with young leadership

Winning the regular season conference title, the WAC Tournament title and memories of playing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time has been considered an afterthought for the women’s basketball team this year.

“We don’t reflect back on it a whole lot,” coach Adrian Wiggins said in reference to last year’s success.

Wiggins was rewarded with a new contract extension before this upcoming season after leading his team to the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) title.

The Bulldogs lost in the first round against Baylor in the NCAA Women’s Tournament. But Fresno State’s appearance in the March tournament was a first in the program’s 43-year history.

One of Wiggins’ players, sophomore Hayley Munro, believes that her team will face even stiffer challenges this upcoming season.

“I wouldn’t say we’re the team the beat,” Munro said. “I think the conference this year is a bit stronger than last year.”

Munro was named to the All-WAC Freshmen Team last season. Her teammate, Jaleesa Ross, also had success early as a freshman a year ago, earning All-WAC Second Team honors after averaging 12.8 points per game.

Ross believes that her team will be playing with a bull’s-eye on its back.

“Pretty much everybody is looking at us,” Ross said. “We got a target on our back in the WAC.”

The Bulldogs not only have to deal with defending their conference title, but also move on without Tierre Wilson, who was last season’s WAC Player of the Year and is now on the Washington Mystics’ WNBA roster.

Juan Villa / Collegian File Photo

“She gave us a lot of confidence,” Wiggins said. “So we’re looking for some new players to step up in that area and give us confidence on the court.”

Fresno State is ranked second in the WAC preseason polls behind Boise State. The Bulldogs received five first- place votes while the Broncos received 15.

Boise State is considered to be the biggest challenge for Adrian Wiggins’ team this year.

“They’re good, they’re very well-coached, and they have a lot of scorers,” Wiggins said. The Broncos split the regular season series with the Bulldogs last season at 1-1, with Fresno State’s win coming at the Save Mart Center.

Jaleesa Ross didn’t seem to be too bugged with the fact that the Broncos were picked ahead of the Bulldogs in the preseason polls.

“Boise State is a very good team, it doesn’t really bother me,” Ross said. “It’s some nice fire under us to get us going. It keeps us humble. So we’re ready.”

Wiggins and his team also feel that the rest of the WAC will pose a challenge to the Bulldogs.

“I think Nevada has some good talent, Louisiana Tech has some good talent, New Mexico State is always well-coached and San Jose State is a lot better now,” Wiggins said. “It really is a better league, so that’s a good thing for us.”

Fresno State not only has to deal with conference play, but a tough non-conference schedule, which includes West Virginia and a road trip to Stanford.

“Stanford is picked to win the Pac-10,” Wiggins said. “They’re very talented and they have a lot of tradition. It’s a great game for us to play.”

Senior Bailey Amundsen is one of the players looking forward to making the trip to Palo Alto and playing against the Cardinal.

“We’re excited for that one, for us to play a good program like that,” Amundsen said.

Amundsen is one of three seniors on the Bulldog roster this year along with LaToya Brown and LaShaunte Stephens.

“Senior leadership is very important,” Amundsen said. “We have about five sophomores and a lot of underclassmen, so it’s very important to keep them all in check and hope everything goes good.”

Along with the sophomore class and seniors, Fresno State has eight returning players from last season.

“We got four or five players that can score a lot of points,” Wiggins said. “My big issue right now is to play throughout this long basketball season and be very tough-minded. We want to be tougher physically and mentally.”

Along with trying to get tougher, the team is also looking to build on last year’s success and continue to improve.

“I just want to improve and see how well I can do,” Munro said. “As a team, we want to make the NCAA Tournament again but take it a couple of steps further.”

For senior Bailey Amundsen, she wants this year to be one she remembers for years to come.

“Team goals are pretty much the same as last year,” Amundsen said. “We would like to win the WAC again and make it to the NCAA Tournament. I just want to have fun with my team for my very last year.”

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