STEVENS: Lobo Women's Basketball is Loaded With Talent and Depth
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  10/23/2009
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Oct. 23, 2009

by Richard Stevens
Golobos.com Staff Writer

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. --- When it comes to tossing out a perimeter player or three to join senior Amy Beggin on The Pit's floor, Lobo coach Don Flanagan probably could shut his eyes, reach into a hat, and pull out a deadly lineup of talent, scorers and in-your-face motivation.

Simply put, Flanagan's Lobos are loaded on the rim behind Beggin, UNM's fearless leader and preseason first team All-Mountain West Conference pick. Take your pick of these perimeter guns: Amanda Best, Sara Halasz, Nikki Nelson, Georonika Jackson, Porche Torrance, Lauren Taylor and Eileen Weissmann.

"Our perimeter not only is good, but we have backups," said Flanagan. "It's a good mix of experienced players."

When it comes to finding a comparable mix of experience and defense in the paint, Flanagan might have to peek into that hat and scratch his head a bit. If there is a question mark on the 2009-10 University of New Mexico roster, it's the play in the paint.

"I think we are going to be better offensively down low than people think," said Flanagan. "I have a few concerns defensively. We'll see what happens."

The Lobos lost 6-foot-2 Angela Hartill from the 2008-09 lineup and that graduated post took 12 points and 5.6 rebounds per game with her. UNM also lost versatile 6-foot Amanda Adams, whose seven points and 5.4 rebounds a game often were found inside.

The Lobos of Hartill/Adams posted a 25-11 record (9-7 MWC) and advanced to the Women's National Invitation Tournament. UNM is picked in the MWC preseason poll to finish fourth. UNM returns three starters and six other letterwinners from last season.

The obvious heir to Hartill's inside throne is 6-foot-6 senior Valerie Kast, a Gallup High product, who is approaching her final season as a Lobo with a new-found determination -- and work ethic.

"Val is in the best condition I've ever seen and she has her best attitude ever," said Flanagan. "She realizes this is it for her. She used to talk a good game, but this season she is backing it up with work. She is a fitter athlete.

"The tempo is a concern with Val in there. She is better in the half-court set, but Val is going to have to keep up with the game. If there is any delay in our transition, we will rotate people in. Val doesn't have to beat anybody down the floor, but we don't want to be waiting for her either. What encourages me is that not once have I had to say, `Val you have to keep up.'"

The other candidates for that "five" position are 6-2 Jessica Kielpinski and 6-5 Emily Stark, a true freshman. Kast averaged 3.4 points and 1.3 boards per game in 2008-09. Kielpinski contributed 4.0 points and 3.6 rebounds. Flanagan said he also might occasionally throw Porche Torrance into the paint. The 6-1 sophomore has the ability to use her athleticism and quickness to score points and pester opposing centers.

The Lobos' strength this season obviously is Beggin and Co. on the rim -- and on the run. This team has the potential to be one of Flanagan's best when it comes to athleticism and perimeter firepower.

You have to start the gushing over these Lobo guards with Beggin, who has followed in the footsteps of a long line of accomplished UNM point guards. Of course, Beggin has made a few tracks of her own.

Beggin, a legitimate MWC Player of The Year candidate, so often has placed these Lobos on her shoulder and carried the load. Flanagan expects his star to have more help in 2009-10. "Teams keyed on Amy last year," said the Lobos' coach. "We need others to step up and that shouldn't be a problem."

Beggin, a two-time all-MWC selection, is 11th all-time in scoring at UNM with 1,063 points. She averaged 36.2 minutes, 15.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 2008-09, despite playing the stretch run of the season with torn ligaments in an ankle and a target on her back.

Possibly, her greatest contribution to her Lobos is her will to win. It is an attribute that is contagious -- in some ways, because she forces that will upon her teammates. Beggin does not play this game to lose.

"She's a leader and players respond to her leadership," said Flanagan. "She is a role-model leader. And this season I expect even more from her."

Beggin will provide leadership, but she won't have to stand alone in that role as returning senior starter. Weissman might not be as demonstrative with her competitive nature, but she's a fighter with both the strength and the quickness to cause damage on the wing. This senior can shoot the trey. She can put the ball on the floor and drive. She also will be called upon to help the Lobo posts with board work and guarding post players.

Beggin's supporting cast on the outside is versatile, quick and athletic. Her backup is 5-5 Nelson, a bug-quick sophomore who enters the season playing with a higher level of confidence.

"Nikki is much more confident and much more relaxed on the court this year," said Flanagan. "It`s tough to play behind Amy because you don`t get as much playing time, but Nikki is competing. I have to get Nikki on the court this year, but there are a lot of players I have to get on the floor."

One luxury Flanagan has this season is his depth. That also is a small problem. The 15-year Lobo coach probably wouldn`t mind if college ball abandoned its two-half format and went to five 10-minute quarters. Flanagan could use the extra minutes -- to get his talent on the floor, to wear down teams with his depth.

The tempo of 2009-10 will be an interesting thing to watch develop and grow.

Flanagan is going with a four-out, motion offense that places one back-to-the-basket post in the paint. At times, the quicker Lobos will look for the quick transition basket off the open jumper or the power drive. At times, they'll look inside. Even in the half-court set, there will be movement to open lanes and angles for Flanagan's athletes to charge the rim.

The Lobos have scorers, but Flanagan also says this is one of his best conditioned teams ever.

Senior Amy Beggin

"Last year, Lauren Taylor wasn't this quick. This is as good as I've seen her," said Flanagan. "She wasn't this strong, wasn't this accurate a shooter.

"Sara Halasz is 20 pounds heavier and hasn't lost any speed. Once she gets her outside shot going, she is going to be a load for anyone to guard. Georonika Jackson, Val Kast, well, I can say the whole team is in its best shape ever. This has been as good a fall as I can remember."

A big key for UNM this season is finding some scoring help -- especially in crunch time -- to take the target off Beggin's back. The returning point production, after Beggin's 15.4 average, takes a dip. No returning Lobos averaged more than six points in 2008-09 with Weissmann at 5.6, Best at 5.4 and Halasz at 5.6.

Flanagan probably would be happy with scoring by committee, but he also needs those committee members to increase those averages.

The unknown commodity this season is what Flanagan will get out of his talented crop of freshmen.

"Our freshmen, according to our older players, are not normal freshmen," said Flanagan. "The older girls are telling me, `The freshmen are already there.' That would be nice because I expect some freshmen help."

Stark has the height at 6-5 to help UNM's Special K&K duo -- Kast and Kielpinsky. The 6-foot Jourdan Erskine might be the best bet among the freshmen to contribute on the perimeter and even backing up Weissmann as a power wing/forward. However, Flanagan also is encouraged by the play of 6-foot Caroline Durbin, 6-foot Chinyere Nnaji and 6-2 Jordan Unverzagt.

"They all have a tremendous up-side," said Flanagan.

Just like his 2009-10 Lobos.

Here is a quick look at Flanagan's 10 returning Lobos:

Amy Beggin, 5-6, Sr: Beggin already has established herself as one of the best-ever Lobo point guards and is a strong candidate for 2010 MWC Player of The Year. She can beat a team with her clutch 3-point shooting or damage them with her drives. However, Beggin's best attribute and gift to her teammates might be her uncompromising will to win.

Eileen Weissmann, 6-0, Sr.: This tough competitor has the touch to score on the outside and the strength to drive, post up and guard the posts of the enemy. She was second on the team last year in 3-pointers and should increase her scoring this season.

Amanda Best, 6-0, Jr: A solid all-around player with the ability and the work ethic to improve all aspects of her game in 2009-10. Best has a nice touch on the outside and complements that talent with strong drives to the basket. If her 3-point shot is on this year -- look out!

Lauren Taylor, 6-0, So: Taylor has the touch, and the quick release, to provide Beggin and Weissmann some help from the 3-point line. Taylor reported stronger and in better shape, which should help her improve her defense in 2009-10.

Nikki Nelson, 5-5, So: Nelson is quick and fierce and has the ball handling skills to break down presses and set up UNM shooters. One of her needs this season is to play with more poise and confidence and Flanagan sees those attributes in his second-year Lobo. That should help her shooting, too.

Sara Halasz, 6-0, So: Halasz has the potential to be one of the best all-around Lobos ever and a deadly scoring threat. She has a strong drive. A nice pull-up jumper. She also is stronger and more fit this season, which should help all aspects of her game, including her confidence.

Porche Torrance, 6-1, So: This talented and versatile Lobo dropped out of the 2008-09 season with a knee injury. She is a streaky shooter with a strong mid-range jumper, but also has great first-step quickness to get around opponents on the drive.

Georonika Jackson, 5-11, Sr.: Jackson is yet another versatile Lobo with the ability to light it up from far range or hurt the enemy with athletic drives to the rim. Jackson shot over 40 percent from the 3-point line. That makes her a tough defensive assignment, because if you play her tight, she'll blow past you.

Valerie Kast, 6-6, Sr: Kast can score. She has a nice and soft touch up to 15-feet away from the basket. When she is on-balance and not hurrying her shot, she can be deadly. Her improved athleticism should help her power moves near the rim, with her defense, and with her ability to get up and down the court.

Jessica Kielpinski, 6-2, Jr.: Kielpinski often has come onto the court and given the Lobos an immediate spark in scoring and rebounding. Her improved conditioning should extend those good moments and extend her minutes on the court.