Third-year Loyola Marymount women's basketball Coach Todd Corman is optimistic on the eve of the 1987-88 season. This might be considered foolhardy since his team only managed to win one league game last year while losing 11 and finished with an embarrassing 5-23 overall record.
But Corman has reason for the optimism: a group of talented freshmen, an outstanding transfer and a new attitude.
"There's definitely a more positive atmosphere on this team," Corman said. "It's a better team and the girls know it."
Analyzing Loyola's past, it may seem amazing that the Lions were ranked fifth instead of last in the West Coast Athletic Conference coach's preseason poll. The program has gone through three coaches in five years and has an 8-48 record for the last two years under Corman.
"The first two years were the weeding-out process," Corman said. "This is the first year that all the players are mine. I either recruited all of them or they walked on while I was coach."
Corman, who coached high school boys basketball for 10 years before coming to Loyola, is excited about this season, even though he admits that his team is not very quick or tall and is definitely not blessed with big-time shooters.
So how does he plan to win?
"We're going to use a lot of strategy and block the opponent's move," he said. "We're just an aggressive and very physical team."
They are also young, with only one senior starting the season, along with four sophomores, four freshmen and one junior. Because of that, Corman scheduled the bulk of the preseason games at home.
"We're going to play lots of freshmen," Corman said. "The young kids are all going to get a lot of experience early. They're going to have to learn fast."
Of the team's five returners, co-captain Amy Atkinson is the only senior. She's a 5-10 forward, who transferred to Loyola from Napa Junior College last year.
Atkinson, who missed practice last week because of tendinitis in a knee, was the team's leading rebounder last year with 237. She averaged seven points a game.
Returning forward-center Michelle Bettencourt also missed practice last week because she was in a car accident. The 6-1 sophomore was an all-WCAC player last year and will play the post for the Lions. She averaged 8.7 points a game and 6.8 rebounds.
The two forwards will be ready for action by the time the season starts, but the Lion's best returning point guard, senior Sylvia Bauer, who averaged 11.9 points a game last season, will miss the first eight games of the season. She won't be eligible to play until Dec. 19 because she wasn't planning on returning to school after last spring and didn't enroll in classes.
Freshman Kristen Bruich will do most of the ball-handling until Bauer returns. Bruich is an all-CIF guard from Fontana High.
"Sylvia is the Pete Rose of this team," Corman said. "She's always 110% on the floor, so when she gets back we should be in great shape."
Other freshmen, who are expected to help the Lions right away are Lynn Flanagan, an all-American guard out of Louisville High in Woodland Hills, Jody Henderson an all-Northern California high school forward from Chico and Tricia Gibson, a 6-3 center from La Mirada High.
"Right there you have three excellent players," said Corman. "Lynn scored 14 points in our intra-squad game, Tricia is an excellent defensive player and Jody is great inside."
The Lions have another newcomer who is expected to muscle in and make an immediate difference in court performance.
Corman refers to the 5-10 forward as the team's catalyst. Junior Regan O'Hara, who transferred from Cal State Northridge last year, is the Lions' other co-captain, and she's itching to play after sitting out last year.
"It was really frustrating," said O'Hara, who played for two seasons at Northridge. "But it helped give me a whole different perspective. I've been working out hard and I feel very strong."
O'Hara was an all-California Collegiate Athletic Assn. player who led CSUN in scoring (12.1), rebounding (10.9) and assists (63) her freshman year. She can also do damage from the free-throw line. In her two-year career at Northridge, she sank 247 free throws and broke the school's single-season record by making 133 during the 1985-86 season.
"Not only is Regan extremely aggressive inside," said Corman, "she's also developed a great outside shot."
Her aggressiveness will contribute greatly to the Lion offense, whose strength will be inside. Corman hopes to develop a fast break and better outside shooting as the season gets under way.
Defensively the Lions look pretty set. They will run a mixed defense with a full-court press that Corman says looks strong.
"I'm not really too concerned about it (defense) right now," Corman said. "We have excellent quickness in that area."
The Lions open their season on Friday at Southern California College, then come home to play the University of Nevada, Reno, on Saturday.
"We're going to surprise a lot of people," said Atkinson. "They're going to take us lightly and they're going to be very surprised, because we're a lot stronger and we have better shooting and rebounding than last year."