CORVALLIS — Scott Rueck has a bit of a problem, only it is one he is more than happy to deal with this season.
Rueck, entering his ninth season as Oregon State’s women’s basketball coach, has the most versatile team in his time in Corvallis and will need to figure out the best combination of players to use, and when, this season.
That process will be on display Friday night when the Beavers open the regular season against Cal Poly at Gill Coliseum.
The Beavers return four starters off last year’s team that reached the Elite Eight for the second time in three seasons. They also add point guard Destiny Slocum, a transfer from Maryland who sat out the 2017-18 season by NCAA rules.
With a plethora of talented players, it could make for some difficult decisions as to who starts, who plays when, and how the rotation comes together.
Rueck, however, is not too concerned.
“Those are great problems to have, and this team does have a lot of people with a lot of experience and a lot of skill,” he said. “Because of that, it doesn’t change, though, the natural progression that teams go through. What team plays the best together? What people play in what offense? What defensive look can we give with certain people?
“So it’s a true puzzle to put together. That’s true every year and this one has a lot of really good pieces to it.”
It has been a fun process for the players. Sophomore point guard Aleah Goodman, who averaged 6.3 points a game last season, said having to learn different positions has helped her as a point guard to understand that job better.
“Being able to play those other positions has actually helped me because I can see ‘Oh when I’m the two (position) this is what I need, so this is what they’re going to need when they’re the two or the three,’” she said. “Everyone can play with everyone, which I love. Our bench is so deep. We don’t skip a beat when we sub, which I think is amazing.”
Slocum said the players have faith in their teammates regardless of who is on the court or what position they are playing at the time.
“You have no fear that the person going in there’s going to be a change in energy at all. There’s going to be the same consistent energy all the time,” she said.
The Beavers’ most significant loss from last season is center Marie Gulich, who led the team with 17.5 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. They also lost guard Taylor Kalmer, who transferred to San Diego State for her senior season.
“She’s a huge, huge part of last year’s season so I think everyone’s stepping into those roles and just everyone just kind of coming together and knowing what we need to do,” Goodman said of Gulich, a first-round draft pick by the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury.
With Slocum, the Beavers have a dynamic point guard, and she certainly showed the home fans a glimpse of what is to come in last Saturday’s 95-58 exhibition victory over Northwest Nazarene.
Slocum, the Big Ten freshman of the year in 2016-17 and also honored as the national freshman of the year by one organization, had 13 points and seven assists in 24 minutes.
Senior Joanna Grymek, who played about nine minutes a game and averaged 3.8 points last season, could take over at center.
Even though the Beavers are looking for someone or a combination of players to make up for the loss of Gulich, as well as having a new starter at point guard — albeit one who has played at a high level at another school — expectations are high not only inside the program but on a national level.
Oregon State is No. 8 in The Associated Press poll and No. 9 in the coaches poll. The Beavers also came in at No. 7 in ESPN’s poll.
While they certainly have talent, introducing a new point guard and center is never easy.
“Usually you say when your point guard and your center are returning and experienced, that’s going to be a great year,” Rueck said. “And this year everybody is expecting a great year yet we’re breaking in a one that hasn’t been in that spot and we’re breaking in a five spot.”
Senior Katie McWilliams could be a big-time scorer this year and she showed that ability in the exhibition game with 17 points on 7-for-12 shooting.
“I thought last year we saw glimpses of it when the lightbulb went on for her and she began to understand, A, what she’s capable of and B, what the team needs,” Rueck said. “When you look around on our roster now, well she’s the one four-year senior so certainly we need her to produce for us. I feel like that’s more clearly defined in her mind. She’s stepping into that role.”
Junior Mikayla Pivec, who spent most of her time at the point last season, is back after averaging 11.1 points and 7.1 rebounds, as is junior Kat Tudor, who was second on the team at 12.0 points per game. She also hit 129 of 297 3-pointer attempts (43.4 percent).
Pivec could once again be a stat stuffer as she had nine points, seven rebounds and five assists in the exhibition.
Tudor missed some time early in camp recovering from surgery but hit a couple of 3s late in the exhibition and finished with eight points.
Sophomore Taya Corosdale, who started 25 games last season and averaged 6.8 points and 4.2 rebounds, is healthy after having shoulder surgery in May.
Maddie Washington and Janessa Thropay, both juniors, are back and could have expanded roles this season. Washington had eight points in the exhibition, while Thropay hauled in eight rebounds.
Freshman Patricia Morris (6 feet 7) could see playing time at the center spot as the season progresses, and guard Jasmine Simmons saw nine minutes of time in the exhibition.
The other freshman, Andrea Aquino (6-9), did not play in the exhibition game. Rueck said Wednesday she is “out” and there is no timetable for her return.
With the speed and ballhandlers the Beavers have, there is a good chance they will push the tempo whenever possible. But don’t expect a drastic change in approach.