In the eyes of Dean Andrea, the UC Irvine women's basketball coach, all things are not equal in the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn.
It's not exactly a revelation, but it's accurate.
Cal State Long Beach was 33-3 last season and reached the Final Four of the NCAA playoffs. Hawaii, Nevada Las Vegas and Fresno State each won 20 or more games, finishing second, third and fourth in the PCAA.
Then came the Anteaters.
"We're not blessed with the great athletes like some of the other programs," Andrea said. "Our players just can't show up to practice in October and be ready to play. We've had to come up with different ways to approach the season.
"We work with weight (lifting) programs and set up different situations in practice. During the off-season, each player is responsible for setting up her own body-conditioning workout. They have to be in shape from the first day of practice."
Andrea said this should be a competitive year for the Anteaters, who open their season Friday at 1 p.m. against St. John's in the Freedom Bowl tournament at the Bren Center.
UCI returns its top nine players from a team that finished 14-15 overall and 10-8 in the PCAA.
The conference's coaches have picked the Anteaters to finish fifth again, yet they were only one point behind Hawaii in the voting.
Andrea is expecting more success this season, although that doesn't necessarily mean more victories.
"Being a good team doesn't always equate to wins," Andrea said. "We have a chance to be the best UCI team ever. Maybe not the best record, but in terms of competitiveness and toughness."
There's an if attached to all that.
Her name is Kippie Brown, UCI's junior point guard.
Brown came back from injuries suffered in her freshman year to average 6.2 points and a school-record 4.6 assists per game last season. She also led the Anteaters in minutes played per game (30) and steals (57).
"We gave Kippie Brown every opportunity to play that position," Andrea said. "All she had to do was come back in shape and be ready to go. She hasn't done it."
However, Andrea is concerned with more than Brown's conditioning. He says he wants her to improve her defense and to be more willing to take direction.
The Anteaters appear set along the front line, where senior Natalie Crawford, senior Zalina Walton and junior Cheryl Eiland combined to average more than 32 points and 16 rebounds per game last season. Walton will miss the first two weeks of the season with a sprained knee, but junior Natasha Parks is more than an adequate replacement, according to Andrea.
Senior Cheryl Hoffman, who averaged 10.1 points per game last season, is back at off-guard, leaving just one position to be filled.
Andrea has experimented with Hoffman and freshman Kristi Ahlstedt at point guard, but neither has been completely successful.
"Hoffman is a scorer, and moving her to point takes that away from us," he said. "Ahlstedt is committed to doing what we want, but she's just a freshman. She needs time to adjust."
UCI WOMEN FACTS & FIGURES
Lettermen returning (9)
No Player Po Hgt Yr FG% FT% Ast Reb Pts 20 Kippie Brown G 5-7 Jr .392 .582 4.6 4.1 6.2 33 Natalie Crawford C 6-6 Sr .445 .566 0.6 7.9 11.7 43 Cheryl Eiland C 6-3 Jr .591 .596 0.6 5.2 8.8 14 Cheryl Hoffman G 5-7 Sr .397 .794 2.3 3.5 10.1 34 Shurrell Johnson G 5-8 So .348 .420 0.9 2.4 4.2 21 Natasha Parks F 6-0 Jr .407 .551 1.3 5.6 4.8 22 Mickey Skieresz F 5-10 Sr .462 .739 0.5 2.3 3.5 32 Zalina Walton F 5-10 Sr .388 .716 1.7 3.4 11.9 15 Sharon Warmus G 5-11 So .241 .688 0.3 1.0 1.8
No Hometown (High School) 20 Thousand Oaks (Thousand Oaks) 33 Hawthorne (Leuzinger) 43 Papua, New Guinea (Ukarupa) 14 Cypress (Cypress) 34 Lynwood (Lynwood) 21 Compton (Regina) 22 Westlake Village (Westlake Village) 32 Anaheim (Anaheim) 15 Yorba Linda (Esperanza)
No Player Po Hgt Yr Hometown (High School) 12 Kristi Ahlstedt G 5-6 Fr Roseville, CA (Oakmont) 11 Jenny Lee G 5-7 Fr Eugene, OR (South Eugene) 25 Shannon Unfred C 6-3 Fr Gran Junction, CO (Monument)