GRAND FORKS, N.D.-- University of North Dakota head women's basketball coach Travis Brewster embarks on his sixth season at the helm of the Fighting Hawks as his team held its first organized team practice this afternoon at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. The two-time Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year faces an interesting dilemma in 2017-18 as his team looks to repeat as regular season league champs.
It's a young roster with just one senior and five freshmen. But, it also has a nucleus of talent that has plenty of experience with six returning juniors to join a pair of junior-college transfers and an athlete set to join following the volleyball season to make up a junior class that is nine deep. So, the "young roster" part might be somewhat of a misnomer when talking about experience.
Included in that mix of juniors are Lexi Klabo (2nd Team All-Big Sky) and Fallyn Freije (honorable mention), both of whom earned Big Sky Conference accolades at the end of last season. Klabo was second in the league in rebounding and third in blocked shots as a steady influence down low for the Fighting Hawks (20-11 overall, 15-3 in Big Sky play last season). Freije started all but one game, averaging nearly 10 points and more than six rebounds per game.
Those two are joined by three in the backcourt with plenty of starting experience in sharp-shooting lefty Bailey Strand along with scrappy guards Grace Sawatzke and Jill Morton. Add in long-range gunners Melissa Dailey and Megan Dailey, who come to UND from College of the Siskiyous where they racked up a combined 200 threes last season and North Dakota is stacked in the backcourt. The lone senior on the club, Chastity Franklin, brings a defensive tenacity that will help slow the high-powered offensive attacks of the growing wide-open game in the Big Sky Conference.
Also included in that nine-person junior class is Kaila Burroughs, who saw increased minutes last season as a sophomore and will look to contribute more this season.
While basketball practice opens Monday, Faith Dooley will be continuing her standout season with the UND volleyball team, which is enjoying one of its most successful seasons in history. Her athletic career won't end when they finish, however, as she will join the basketball team, giving North Dakota yet another athlete as it looks to chase down its fifth straight postseason appearance in 2017-18.
Some highly-touted freshmen could make an impact this season, a group with plenty of size. Melissa Leet (6-foot-5), Ally Gorres (6-2), Julia Fleecs (6-2) and Akealy Moton (6-2) along with guard Mikayla Reinke will help make the Fighting Hawks size up to their opponents-- even the power 5 conference foes they'll be facing this year. Traditional powerhouses Oregon State and Baylor, both of whom are recent Final Four teams, will test these Fighting Hawks early in the non-conference season hoping to provide some seasoning before opening the league slate and a crack at a third league crown in UND's sixth and final campaign in the Big Sky before transitioning to The Summit League next year.
North Dakota has a pair of exhibitions-- Minnesota, Morris on Nov. 4 and Minnesota, Crookston on Nov. 8-- before officially lifting the lid on the season in Corvallis, Ore. at Oregon State on Nov. 10.