© 2010 Idaho Press-Tribune

Led by a two-time NAIA All-American, picked to win the Cascade Conference and having come off two straight trips to nationals, College of Idaho coach Reagan Rossi already is trying to figure out ways to make her team better.

The 10th-year coach added some new wrinkles on offense and defense to make her team even more competitive, despite returning 10 players — including seven seniors — from a team that went 21-8 and won the league regular season and tournament titles.

“We’re a little rough around the edges right now, we put in a new offensive system so it’s been very slow and methodical learning,” said Rossi, whose team opens the season Friday at Great Falls. “(It’s) probably frustrating at points for them, but I think it’s going to be good in the long run for us.”

Top returners

No doubt every team the Yotes play knows and worries about stopping two-time NAIA All-American and preseason Cascade Conference Player of the Year Nicole Gall.

The 5-foot-10 senior forward averaged 17.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game and hit a team-high 93 3-pointers last season for the Coyotes. Rossi said the Borah High product will play both on the wing and at forward this season.

She won’t have to carry the load alone, though, as Rossi is very pleased with the play of senior guards Marquina Gilliam-Hicks (5-foot-8) and Meghan Hughes (5-9), along with senior forwards Brianna Hansen (5-10), Nicole Bruce (6-0) and Tyra Rickman (5-10).

Rossi says that Gilliam-Hicks is playing her best for the C of I, and that Hughes spent the summer getting stronger and more consistent with her perimeter shot.

They’ll be joined by sophomore Katelin Shannon, who Rossi said had an incredible freshman season at point guard.

Shannon’s play this year may be limited by some torn cartilage in her knee, though.

“She understands the game, she understands me, which is great to have that with your primary point guard,” Rossi said. “She communicates well with her teammates, she’s a hard worker, she’s put in time on her shot. I’m really excited for the year she’s going to have. I really hope we can get that knee under control for her so it’s not painful all year.”

Inside, both Bruce and Hansen also return to the floor after surgery — Bruce had reconstructive ankle surgery and Hansen had foot surgery.

“That made it an extra long offseason, knowing that you wanted to get better and work towards those expectations for your senior year, but you can’t because you’re out because of surgery,” said Bruce (9.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg), a preseason all-conference pick.

“It’s been good to get back, and I think everyone who was able to work worked hard during the offseason and I think we’ve got some good potential this year.”

Impact newcomers

With seven seniors returning, there isn’t much room for new faces, yet Rossi found a few to help with depth at the guard position, adding freshmen Diamond Mitchell (5-3) from San Diego and Danya Drager (5-9) from Coeur d’Alene, along with junior college transfer Acura Holt (5-4) from Hesston in Kansas.

Holt is a top-notch defender while Mitchell brings speed and athleticism to the guard position.

As for Drager, who played in a very similar system while winning three straight 5A state titles in Coeur d’Alene, Rossi said, “she has a good shot, she has a great understanding of the game, hard worker. I just think she fits in right off the bat with everything we do.”

“I’m working more on my outside game now,” adds Drager, who says her best offensive threat is dribble penetration, “and I’ve noticed a big difference.”

What you will see

Fans and foes have come to expect “Coyote Chaos,” a full-court press style of traps and zone defenses all game long, a style that forced more than 27 turnovers per game last season.

The press returns, and Rossi says she’s even thrown in her containment press a few weeks earlier than normal.

But the Yotes also will play some unexpected half-court man-to-man.

“We’ve always had that in our back pocket but we haven’t used it much,” Rossi said, adding that the team used that defense in a scrimmage with the College of Southern Idaho over the weekend with good results.

Offensively, the new scheme will be more of a motion style offense designed to let guards attack the basket off the dribble and to open up space for the Coyote forwards.

“By opening the post it will actually give the guards more open looks, because the posts will become a viable option so our defenders won’t be able to cheat off onto the guards,” Bruce said.

Of course, it’s still a work in progress as Rossi says “it’s a read and react offense, it has some specific rules to it,” which players will master as the season progresses.

The end goal

All the changes Rossi and the Yotes are making point to one end, and that’s not simply making it back to nationals a third straight year.

“Thinking about the national level, we can’t just be content with getting there, if we do get there. … I think adding that half-court man will help us and hopefully a couple changes at the offensive end will help us,” she said.

Help the Coyotes make run both a run to, and at, nationals.

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