With eight returning players, including all starters, Ron Fortner, coach of the Pepperdine women's basketball team, is talking about contending for a West Coast Athletic Conference title.
The Waves improved from a dismal 7-21 overall record in 1986 to 16-11 last season. The improvement and the returning players have made Fortner, starting his fifth year at Pepperdine, a lot more confident.
"I think we stand a good chance to better last year's record and contend for the conference title," he said. "This team will have experience, and, if our shooting and rebounding improve, we can enjoy a successful season."
Top players include 6-1 all-conference forward Earnesta Grace, a senior, and 5-9 sophomore guard Kristy Greenberg, who was named to the all-conference freshman team. Grace, who transferred from Blinn Junior College in Texas last year, averaged 14.3 points, 8.6 rebounds and 3 blocked shots a game to lead the Waves in those categories, and Greenberg averaged 9.1 points a game.
Other veterans in the front court are 6-0 senior Cindy Sanders and 6-4 sophomore Sharon Clark. The Waves have experienced guards in Shannon Boyd, a 5-7 senior; 5-8 junior Stephanie Meneze, and 5-7 junior Dionne Burgess.
There is no question in Fortner's mind about which player led Pepperdine's resurgence last year. He said there were "many reasons why we enjoyed such a big improvement in our record, but the presence of Earnesta Grace was probably the biggest reason.
"Earnesta can dominate a game on both ends of the floor, especially on the defensive end. Her stats speak for themselves, but they don't accurately reflect her ability to intimidate an opponent."
She was the best in the conference not only in blocking shots but also in steals, and she also led the league by making 52.2% of her field goals.
Fortner also is high on junior forward April Marion, a transfer who averaged 22.7 points and 12.3 rebounds last season at Golden West Junior College. "The addition of April to our front line should give us a big boost," he said. "We have excellent depth at the guard slot, but our front line was thin last season. As a result, we were hurt on the boards or when foul trouble was a problem."
Last season the Waves were long on defense, and Fortner said that "our defense was the difference in many of our games. We like to go after our opponent with various defenses so we can control the tempo of the game."
But they were a little short on the offensive end. The Waves shot 44% from the field and were out-rebounded by nearly four a game.
Anthony Frederick, who excelled at blocking shots for Pepperdine Coach Jim Harrick and his Waves in 1985 and 1986, is getting his second shot in the National Basketball Assn. Frederick has signed with the Indiana Pacers.
Frederick was a sixth-round draft choice of the NBA Denver Nuggets in 1986 but failed to make that team. But he went on to an all-star season with the LaCrosse, Wis., Catbirds in the Continental Basketball Assn.