Coming off one of its best seasons in recent memory, the Menlo College women's basketball team is ready to jump back into action with the beginning of the 2012-13 campaign.
The Oaks enter the season with high hopes, fresh off a regular season and playoff tournament California Pacific Conference championship, culminating in the program's first trip to the NAIA National Tournament in the past five years.
Now, as the wrapping paper comes off of a new season, the message among this year's team is abundantly clear -- take the next step.
"Last year we had the opportunity to go to the national tournament and experience all that goes with it, but this year's goal is to do more than just show up," said head coach Shannon Osborne, the reigning conference coach of the year, Shannon Osborne, in referencing the squad's first-round loss to No. 1 Indiana Wesleyan in last season's tournament.
This year's team boasts a wealth of experience, tremendous depth, and a schedule that should challenge Menlo early and often -- three elements that help pave the way to the Oaks upholding their lofty standard of excellence.
In terms of experience, Menlo welcomes back a sturdy core of veterans that played pivotal roles in last year's title run. Among the group are three 2011-12 All-Cal Pac representatives in first-teamers Jolise Limcaco and Lauren Adamek, plus second-teamer Laurel Donnenwirth.
Limcaco, also the Conference Freshman of the Year, led the Oaks with 11.7 points per game and 99 assists last season. Adamek established herself as a dominant inside force with a solid 9.3 ppg and 7.3 rebounds per contest, while Donnenwirth led Menlo in field-goal percentage (51.8) and rebounding (8.2 per game).
There's also seniors Jenna Marinaro and Carly Tristao, who showed similar dominance as well, with Marinaro knocking down over 100 triples last year, and Tristao serving as another inside presence with 5.8 ppg and 5.6 rpg.
This group enters 2012-13 having played a year together already, a type of experience that Osborne claims as a key difference from last season's team.
"Last year we had four new starters and, to be honest, it didn't click right away. It took time for them to mesh," commented Osborne. "Having as many returning starters as we do will definitely help us navigate through a tough early schedule."
Adding to Menlo's stellar veteran nucleus is a fresh blend of incoming talent that has the potential to turn heads this year. The Oaks welcome four newcomers into the fold, as junior Sasha Brown, sophomore Amber Lane, and freshmen Jacki Bateman and Vanessa D'Amico get set to make their much-anticipated debuts.
Brown brings two years of collegiate experience to the table, suiting up as team captain for the Wolverines of Sierra College in Rocklin for the past two seasons. Lane enters her Menlo tenure as guard who spent last year at Cal State San Bernardino after excelling at the high school level with 13.5 points per game and six assists during her senior campaign. Bateman is as versatile as they come, with her ability to shoot drive, defend, and rebound, while D'Amico brings long-range shooting prowess to the forefront with a quick trigger, as well.
The combination of returning and newcomer talent provides the Oaks with depth that hasn't been seen in the Osborne era.
"This is easily the deepest we have been since I have been here," claimed Osborne. "We have quality depth at each position, which has made our practices very competitive each and every day."
Menlo's depth will be tested early and often as the Oaks have to compete with a challenging nonconference schedule. Menlo is forced to contend with a trio of NAIA Division II Top 25 schools in No. 14 Corban University (the Oaks' season opener on Friday), No. 23 College of Saint Mary on Dec. 16, and No. 22 Taylor University on Dec. 28.
The Oaks' toughest test might just be NAIA Division I, No. 12 Biola University on Dec. 8 and Nov. 17. Menlo also will go up against Cal State San Marcos, a team receiving votes in NAIA D-I.
The Oaks conference title defense kicks off on Jan. 10 at Simpson University, and Osborne is fully aware of the target on her team's back after taking home the championship last season.
"We go from being the hunter last year to the hunted this year," remarked Osborne. "Every time we step on the floor we will get the opposition's best game, so we need to play our best game each and every time. Nothing will be handed to us; we need to understand that."