With his 2015-16 recruiting class finalized, new Portland State women’s basketball coach Lynn Kennedy’s task now is meshing eight new players with the six returnees from last season’s Vikings team.
Bearing in mind point guard Montana Walters sat out last season after transferring from Santa Clara, nine of the 14 players on next season’s roster did not play a single minute for the Vikings during their difficult 4-25 campaign in 2014-15.
Then again, the hiring of Kennedy and the signing of a multitude of new players is perhaps the fresh start Portland State urgently needed.
“We had to improve the competitive nature of our team and change the mentality,” Kennedy told Viking Tales recently. “We wanted to bring in players that had been around winning programs and come from a winning culture. Looking at our roster, we definitely needed size. We tried to address that issue.
“Going into recruiting late, it was just finding the right players that can fit our system. Our recruiting pool in the Pacific Northwest was very small, so we had to stretch it out a bit.”
Ten of Portland State’s 14 players next season will be freshmen or sophomores, making the Vikings one of the youngest teams in the Big Sky Conference.
Just one PSU player will be a senior next season, so the roster turnover following Kennedy’s inaugural season at the helm should be far less comprehensive.
“It’s a fresh start for everybody,” Kennedy said. “The combination of the returning players and new players will only be a good thing. The returners have gone through workouts with us, so they are starting to understand our philosophy and what we’re asking from them. They are starting to see the vision and anticipate what we are going to do with the program.
“We are going to be fairly young next season. But looking at it on paper, this is probably one of the better recruiting classes Portland State has seen in a few years. I get excited thinking about it and the players we have coming in. Now it’s about going to work and getting after it.”
Among the eight new signees, the most familiar name is 6-foot-2 guard/forward Ashley Bolston, who starred at South Medford High School until signing with Washington State last year. She appeared in 11 games for the Cougars as a freshman before leaving the program in January.
Bolston was one of the top prep players in the state of Oregon for three years, helping lead South Medford to three straight appearances in the state championship game. When she was a sophomore, South Medford went 30-0 and won the state title.
As a senior two years later, Bolston averaged 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists per game and was rated three stars by ESPN and the No. 106 prospect nationally by GirlsBasketballReport.com.
“She was one of the best players to come out of Oregon when she signed with Washington State,” Kennedy said. “She is a very good player. She has been coming to my camps and clinics since she was very small. So, I have known her for quite a while. It was a natural fit for her when she was looking to transfer. When I got the Portland State job, it connected.”
Bolston, one of two Division I transfers joining the Vikings next season, is one of five Oregon natives dotting Portland State’s 2015-16 roster.
“What we had to do (in my first year recruiting), especially in the Portland region, is establishing Portland State out there,” Kennedy said. “We wanted players to come to campus, see the new energy and the new enthusiasm with everything that is going on with Portland State athletics, from the Viking Pavilion to everything happening on campus.”
Last week’s announcement that the general contractor had been hired for the Viking Pavilion, the latest step in bringing the new $45 million arena project closer to reality, should boost Portland State’s recruiting efforts in future years.
“Before, it was just pictures,” Kennedy said. “Soon, we’ll see the dirt come up. As we approach that day, it will get more and more exciting for recruits. We’re talking about it, watching the videos and looking at the pictures, but when you start construction they know it’s happening for sure.”
The second transfer into Portland State is 5-11 sophomore guard Sidney Rielly from Santa Clara. She is the second former Bronco to join the Vikings within the last 12 months as point guard and former Oregon City standout Montana Walters returned to the Rose City last summer.
Rielly played in 25 games for Santa Clara as a freshman last season, averaging 3.6 points and 1.3 rebounds per game. She scored 25 points in a win over Bay Area rival San Francisco.
Rielly finished her prep career as Everett (WA) High School’s all-time leading scorer with 1,517 career points.
“I have been watching her since her freshman year in high school and the club circuit,” Kennedy said. “It was just a combination of finding the right fit for her when she decided to transfer. Portland State fit her every need. She was one of the best scorers to come out of Washington (two seasons ago). She is a great shooter, but also has the ability to attack the basket, find the right player when they are open and handle the ball. She should be a combo guard for us.”
Bolston and Rielly must both sit out the 2015-16 season in accordance with NCAA transfer rules, giving Portland State 12 active players for Kennedy’s first season.
“Bringing Sidney and Ashley in and allowing them to redshirt and develop for a year, there is our 2016 signing class sitting right there on the bench,” Kennedy noted. “We’re excited about that. We wanted to address our future, which is why we took a chance with two high level transfers coming in, but we also have to look at next year too. I want to win tomorrow, so we wanted to bring in players capable of making an immediate impact too.”
Walters should compete with Yaremi Mejia and newcomer Michaela Kay for the starting point guard job. Kay, a 5-foot-6 freshman from Spokane, Wash., was a four-year starter and three-time team captain at Lewis & Clark High School.
Kay averaged 16 points, five assists, and three steals per game as a senior, shooting 88.5 percent from the free-throw line and 47 percent from three-point range.
“She comes from a very good program,” Kennedy said. “We looked for winners in this class coming in and she is definitely a winner. She fits everything we look for in our wings. She can handle the ball and shoot and get up and down the floor. When we were looking at this recruiting class, she was certainly at the top of our list.”
The 2015-16 roster will also feature an international flair with New Zealander Te Oramae Solomon joining fellow countrywomen Alicia Carline on the Vikings, while 6-3 freshman Pie Jurhar makes the journey from Vienna, Austria and JUCO transfer Ashley Torres Negron hails from Puerto Rico.
“Jurhar is a power post player with a huge upside,” Kennedy said. “She can post up and finish at the basket and go out to 15 feet. We want our power post to be able to handle the ball and finish down low when they have an opportunity to do that. She is a great signing for us this late. She flew under the radar a little bit.”
Jurhar brings plenty of international experience as she most recently played on Austria’s U20 National Team, while Negron spent two seasons at Highland community College in Kansas, earning NJCAA second-team All-America honors in 2014-15.
“(Negron) played at an elite level for JUCO basketball,” Kennedy said. “She can play multiple positions. She brings experience right away having played at a national level for Puerto Rico. She is a bigger guard, so she can get into the lane and finish. She can attack and knock down threes.”
2015-16 PSU WOMEN’S BASKETBALL ROSTER
Ashley Bolston, G/F (So.)*
Alicia Carline, C (Sr.)
Danah Haley, F (Jr.)
Corey James, G (Fr.)
Pia Jurhar, F (Fr.)
Michaela Kay, G (Fr.)
Yaremi Mejia, PG (RSo.)
Ashley Torres Negron, G (Jr.)
Sidney Rielly, G (So.)*
Shelby Sanders, C (So.)
Bree Shepard, G (Fr.)
Te Oramae Solomon, F (Jr.)
Montana Walters, PG (RSo.)
CiCi West, F (So.)
* Transfer required to sit out 2015-16 season
Reach Scott Hood at ScottHood63@gmail.com