The 2017-18 season is nearly here. In fact, by press time, the Golden Grizzlies will be mere hours away from playing their season opener at home against Illinois State. The Golden Grizzlies are coming off 2016-17 campaign, which ended with an 18-12 record overall, a 12-6 mark in Horizon League play, and third-place finish in league play before a quarterfinal round loss to Milwaukee in the Horizon League Tournament last March.
This season, the Golden Grizzlies were picked third in the Horizon League Preseason poll, behind defending champion, Green Bay and Wright State. This reflects the growing respect the Golden Grizzlies are receiving in the conference with the group of returning players.
Beginning with the point guard, Taylor Gleason enters her third and final season at Oakland after transferring from Illinois. The redshirt senior tends to get overlooked when it comes to conference accolades, but Gleason may now be the most dangerous point guard in the Horizon League when considering all of her skills. Her quickness, aggressive mentality and ability to quickly move the ball makes her a perfect fit to run Tungate’s dribble-drive offense, an up-tempo style he borrowed from Oakland men’s head coach Greg Kampe. While Gleason’s role is primarily to distribute the ball, she can also score 20 or more points if needed, whether driving to the hoop or shooting the three.
What really makes Gleason valuable, though, is her leadership.
“She’s the one that when she speaks, people listen,” Tungate said. “She knows the way we do things, how we do things, and what needs to get done. She’s not afraid to call people out when they’re not getting done the right way.”
Expected to join Gleason in the backcourt is Sha’Keya Graves, another redshirt senior who transferred from DePaul two years ago. Last season she started and came of the bench, showcasing her quickness offensively and defensively best illustrated on her game-winning steal and layup against Green Bay at the Athletics Center Orena last season.
Junior, Taylor Jones, the reigning Horizon League Sixth Player of the year, is the projected starter on the wing. As shown by leading Oakland with 15.3 points per game while coming off the bench, Jones can score at will, and can do it from anywhere on the floor, but has been working on getting stronger and answering her coach’s call for her to become a better defender and rebounder. This is just another way that she can challenge herself.
“I came to Oakland because I knew the program was struggling and I saw the vision that Coach Tungate had for us,” Jones said. “I really just wanted to be part of a program that was in the process of rebuilding rather than going to a program that was already established.”
At the four spot will be senior, Leah Sommerfield, who last season made tremendous strides, nearly tripling her scoring average from 3.5 to 11.1 and nearly doubling her rebounding average from 3.7 to 6.6 Most importantly, Sommerfield played with confidence and poise, taking full advantage of becoming a regular starter.
The five position will be the major question mark as there are, according to Tungate, four players competing for that starting spot, left vacant by last season’s Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year, Hannah Little, now playing professionally in Greece. Along with redshirt sophomore Nika Telesford, three freshman, Myka Cromwell, Chloe Guingrich and Autumn Kissman are all vying for that spot.
As the Golden Grizzlies prepare for the season, one source of inspiration they can draw from is the success they’ve had against the top team, Green Bay, having won three of their last four meetings against the Phoenix.
“Picked to finish third based of last year, (but) I believe we’re better than that,” Gleason said. “We’re going to really show people our dynamic is much different than what the rest of the league has and we’ve proven we can beat the best team in the league. We just have to go out there and string consistent wins in the season.”