This is the seventh in an annual season preview series of the Pac-12 teams.
Oregon State couldn't have had a better season last year.
They set a school record with 32 wins, went 16-2 in Pac-12 play and took a share of the conference title for the second straight season. The Beavers were ranked in the AP top 25 poll all year, rising as high as No. 7 late in the season. They won the Pac-12 Tournament for the first time and hit the NCAA Tournament like bulls in a china shop, with their final performance knocking off powerhouse Baylor to advance to the Final Four for the first time in program history.
OSU won't repeat that performance this year, with three key players gone. But their incoming freshman class provides a glimpse of the future.
All-American and all-everything guard Jamie Weisner (17.3 points, 5.6 rebounds per game) may be the biggest loss for the Beavers, as she could not only score but ignite her team to action. Center Ruth Hamblin's height, at 6-6, will be missed, as will her stat line (11.8 points, 10 rebounds per game). Forward Deven Hunter also graduated, as did reserves Samantha Siegner and Jen’Von’Ta Hill.
The good news for the Beavers is that senior guard Sydney Wiese (12.8 points, 5.7 rebounds per game) will bring her electric play back, and guard Gabriella Hanson (7.8 points, 3.5 rebounds per game) also returns. So does junior center Marie Gulich, sophomore guard Katie McWilliams, and three other reserves.
Coach Scott Rueck said it won't be easy filling Weisner and Hamblin's shoes.
"We will look for others to step up into those roles, as well as the roles of Deven Hunter and Samantha Siegner," he said. "We may look a little different schematically to play to the strengths and characteristics of this particular group."
OSU welcomes the 12th-ranked recruiting class in the nation: guards Kat Tudor and Mikayla Pivec and forwards Maddie Washington and Janessa Thropay. Forward/center Tarea Green, will also join the freshmen lineup. So far they are fitting in well, and could make an impact quickly.
"All four of our incoming students have the opportunity to contribute in a significant way this season," Rueck said. "They are already comfortable and learning at a rapid rate. Mikayla Pivec and Kat Tudor are competing at our guard positions, and Maddie Washington and Janessa Thropay at the forward spots. These are phenomenal people and athletes.
Rueck said he loves the way the team is shaping up so far.
"I love this team," he said. "The way they compete each day, the way they take care of each other, and the fact they demand elite effort and execution from themselves and each other. I am excited to watch them take on each challenge that comes their way this year."
Known for his attention to detail and high standards, Rueck is expecting nothing less of this year's squad than he did last year.
"Our goal for the season is the same as it is each year and that is for this group to reach their potential as a team," he said. "We have outstanding leadership and they choose to put the team before themselves and that is the prerequisite to achieve that goal."
The Beavers face Idaho, BYU and Southern Utah, among others, before beginning conference play Dec. 30 at home, against Washington State.
Oregon State celebrates their regional win and advancement to the Final Four last March. Photo courtesy of OSU Athletics.