By Steve Gress

Corvallis Gazette-Times

First up

North Dakota at No. 19 Oregon St.

When: 2 p.m. Friday TV: None

CORVALLIS — Oregon State has won three straight Pac-12 women’s basketball regular-season titles, reached two Sweet 16s and played in one Final Four over the past three seasons.

As you would expect, the turnover from the past three seasons is a who’s who of some of the best players in program history.

Those losses have not changed the Beavers’ approach.

They do not talk specifically about winning championships. Instead, the daily focus is on why so many banners hang in the practice facility and if what the players are doing is conducive to hanging another.

Do that, said eighth-year coach Scott Rueck, and the championships will likely follow.

“You could play the perfect game and lose so you can’t necessarily predict a championship, but you can predict the way you’re going to compete to allow championships to be possible,” he said.

“When we talk about championship culture, that’s what it stems from. It’s just the way you go about it.”

Even with so much turnover, this year’s young team enters the 2017-18 season ranked No. 19 and has its sights set on continuing the recent success, especially hanging another banner.

The first step comes Friday when the Beavers open the season against North Dakota at Gill Coliseum.

“They’ve watched closely what we’ve done, whether that was on the court or at home awaiting their turn to arrive,” Rueck said of the returners and newcomers. “Now they are here, they’re embracing it and they understand what the expectations are. And to be honest, the expectations are to come in and compete like crazy, build upon the culture that’s already established and do it their way.”

Youth will be served as the Beavers have just three upperclassmen who have been a part of the program — senior Marie Gulich (center) and juniors Katie McWilliams (guard) and Taylor Kalmer (guard) — as well as junior transfer Joanna Grymek (center).

Sophomore guards Mikayla Pivec and Kat Tudor both saw quality time last season, and fellow sophomores Madison Washington (guard/forward) and Janessa Thropay (forward) are also back.

Sophomore transfer Destiny Slocum, who was a national freshman of the year last season at Maryland, must sit out the season.

Gulich (9.9 points and 8.1 rebounds per game) and Pivec (7.5 ppg., 5.0 rpg.) are the two starters returning, so others will have plenty of opportunities to contribute.

“I think we’re all stepping up into roles now and we’re all playing up because we know we need to fill those roles,” Tudor said. “It’s really cool to see and our team chemistry is huge right now.”

The Beavers know success on the court begins with defense, an area that has been a constant focus for this team.

“Last year we had a lot of veteran players so they knew what it took, defensively,” Pivec said. “I think this team is still trying to learn what it takes defensively. A lot of people that have Pac-12 experience, myself, Katie, Marie, still need to kind of show the younger kids what intensity needs to happen on the defensive end.”

There will be no Gabby Hanson, the two-time Pac-12 defensive player of the year, this season.

Rueck said it will take a collective effort and that the likes of Pivec and McWilliams will have expanded roles. He also expects to see “huge growth” from Tudor on the defensive end.

“I think Kat has a lot of those same qualities,” Rueck said. “Nobody has that same mind as Gabby Hanson has, it’s just a very unique combination. Kat brings a lot of other unique things to the floor though, and I think she can learn to compete, though, in a similar way.”

The Beavers also have a number of versatile players, and they showcased their ability to drive and dish to open players as well as their unselfishness to make the extra pass in their exhibition game with Concordia last Sunday.

They were able to go small, or have both Gulich (6 feet 5) and Grymek (6-8) on the floor at the same time.

“It’s a huge advantage,” Kalmer said. “We’re all versatile in our own way and we can all play different positions. If someone gets hurt or if somebody needs a sub we can grab someone off the bench and throw them in there and coach will have confidence in us to do that.”

It also makes the Beavers tough to prepare for.

“It’s super hard to prepare against because you can’t just prepare for one simple thing — oh, they’re really tall so you have to box out the whole game,” Gulich said. “If we are small you have to watch out for the shooters, you have to watch out for the people who are quick to the basket and things like that.

“So I think we will be really hard to prepare for if we are able to play like five out or with Jo and me together, that would be really cool.”

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