By Rob Moseley
For the start of their first 2013-14 practice Tuesday, the Oregon women’s basketball team lined up shoulder to shoulder at the baseline, jogging the length of the court and back.
Senior point guard Laura Stanulis started at one end of the line of 15 players. The Ducks were packed tightly together, yet Stanulis barely fit on the court – there were too many other players jamming the baseline. She ran mostly outside the sideline, weaving around a coach who stood at halfcourt.
For the Ducks, having the length of the baseline prove inadequate for the whole roster was a good problem to have. A year ago, in the midst of a disastrous, 4-27 season, Oregon coach Paul Westhead at times had as few as seven healthy players available. For much of December, his primary rotation included just six.
“Toward the end of the season, it was a pretty sad atmosphere,” said sophomore forward Lexi Petersen, who injured her knee early in the campaign and redshirted due to a medical hardship. “Everybody was hurt and frustrated and wanting to do things they couldn’t.
“Ever since the first day (of informal workouts this fall), it’s seemed different. More exciting and more fun.”
Along with Petersen, Stanulis also took a medical hardship after a knee injury last season. Thus, Oregon’s only senior last season is back along with everyone else from the 2012-13 team but guard Devyn Galland, who transferred to Saint Mary’s.
The 15 players on hand Tuesday included transfer Katelyn Loper, who sat out last year and will be eligible this season, and freshman guards Drea Toler and Shae Rowe. For the third straight season, the Ducks will eagerly anticipate the addition of forward Liz Brenner once her volleyball season is over.
Sophomore forward Jillian Alleyne, whose emergence as a freshman earned her honorable mention all-conference honors, said the full complement of players on hand has fostered a chemistry among the Ducks, who are “making each other better” and have “got each other’s backs.”
“It’s more of that family connection you’re supposed to have,” Alleyne said.
The return of Petersen and Stanulis will be welcomed not just for the personal interest in seeing teammates back from injury. The Ducks essentially were without a true point guard after Stanulis was hurt, but now have both the senior Portland native as well as the freshman Toler at the position.
That frees up senior Ariel Thomas to help address another pressing need, scoring threats from the outside. The freshman Rowe can also help in that regard, as can Petersen, who seemed poised to be the Ducks’ primary point producer in 2012-13 until her injury.
“I felt like when I did get hurt, I was peaking,” Petersen said. “It made it that much worse, knowing that I couldn’t help. But that just makes me more excited for this year.
“I feel like it’s a whole new atmosphere, a whole new team. Everybody’s excited, ready to work and getting healthy, so it’s definitely exciting.”
Petersen had an appointment with medical staff prior to practice today, during which she hoped to be fully cleared for practice. Up to this point she’s been doing all drills, but taking limited reps.
Stanulis is a bit further behind in her return, after some complications involving scar tissue. But she hopes to be cleared 100 percent in the coming weeks.
“It feels good to finally be able to run and not have any problems,” Stanulis said. “It’s been almost a year, so I’m anxious to get back.”
Stanulis said the combination of the start of practice Tuesday and new gear issued to the team made for the feeling of a “fresh start” for the Ducks. After three straight losing seasons in four under Westhead, Oregon wants to get back on the positive side of .500 in 2013-14, and challenge for a postseason berth in the final year of his current contract.
“I definitely think it will be a challenge,” Stanulis said. “But seeing everyone’s attitude and effort recently, I think we’re going to come back stronger than ever.”