Coming off one of the best seasons in recent program history, the UWM-Waukesha women's basketball team is looking to begin a patient, rebuilding process heading into the 2018-19 season.
With a solid core of veteran leadership and small, promising group of talented, young players, the Cougars hope to continue to grow as a unit throughout the year and gradually re-establish themselves as one of the premier junior college programs in the state.
UWM-Waukesha finished second in the Wisconsin Collegiate Conference with a 10-3 record and 16-4 overall last season - culminating with a trip to the prestigious two-day WCC Final Four at JustAgame Fieldhouse in Wisconsin Dells for the second time in the last three years.
The Cougars went on to upset two-time defending state champion UW-Marinette 65-48 in the emotional state semifinals before suffering a 98-50 season-ending loss to high-powered, undefeated UW-Marathon in the championship game Feb. 25.
All four of the team's losses came at the hands of upper-tier teams in the WCC, including three at the hands of undefeated UW-Marathon and the other to UW-Marinette.
The Cougars began the season by winning eight of their first nine games, highlighted by victories over Fox Valley Tech (84-25), UW-Marshfield (111-30), College of Lake County (64-58), Milwaukee Area Technical College (88-77), UW-Fond du Lac (78-71), UW-Marinette (72-64) and UW-Washington (91-61).
UWM-Waukesha, which scored 80 or more points six times, carried the momentum over into the second semester - finishing with a 6-2 record to conclude the regular season.
The Cougars, who clinched the No. 2 seed, sealed a trip to state with a dominant home-court victory over UW-Barron (84-34) in the WCC quarterfinals.
It will be a daunting task to replace the leadership of graduated high-powered guards Justice Hawkins and Hannah Bricco.
Hawkins and Bricco provided a dynamic 1-2 scoring punch throughout the season - each earning a first-team berth to lead the Cougars.
Hawkins, who finished her standout three-year career at UW-Waukesha as a three-time first-team WCC selection and the program's all-time leading scorer with 1,016 points, averaged 17.2 points per game with 20 3-pointers, 5.2 rebounds, team-leading 7.5 assists and 3.5 steals.
Bricco, who eclipsed the 40-point mark twice last season, led the team in scoring by averaging 24.4 ppg. with 56 3-pointers, a team-high 73 percent from the free-throw line, 6.8 rpg., 4.1 assists and 2.9 steals.
The Cougars will also be without the services of post player Kailey Kennow and guard Mya Whiters, who each earned all-conference honorable mention honors last year.
Kennow, who averaged 10.9 ppg., 8.4 rpg. with 1.3 steals, 1.1 assists and 1.0 blocked shot, transferred to play for Alverno College. Whiters, who added 9.2 ppg. with 37 3-pointers, 4.4 rpg., 4.3 assists and 1.8 steals, suffered a season-ending injury prior to the start of practice.
The leadership and experience of sophomore guard/forward Taylor Peterson (5-6) from Mukwonago, sophomore guard/forward Bri Jashinsky (5-6) from Sussex Hamilton and sophomore post player/captain Ariel Gonzales (5-10) from Milwaukee Lutheran will be invaluable and help accelerate the team's progression this season.
Freshman point guard Aleah Herron (5-4) from Milwaukee Rufus King, freshman guard Rataeshia Hartfield (5-6) from Milwaukee Rufus King and freshman post player Kylah Schmidt (6-1) from Slinger are promising newcomers looking to make an impact.
Following the success of last season, UWM-Waukesha head coach David Beebe is intrigued by the challenge of gradually rebuilding his team back into a high-powered contender.
"At this point, we're a work in progress with some really good pieces so we just need to remain patient, trust in the process and improve each time we step on the floor," said Beebe, who is 27-11 overall entering his third year at the helm and will be joined by assistant coach Jose Gonzales.
"It was a lot of fun to be able to make it back to state last year and learn from the entire experience. Looking back, its something that should only help as the year goes on and serve as good motivation as we gain confidence with a full arsenal of players during the second semester.
"We might have a small group right now but we're hungry and excited to get going. It will be really interesting to see how things evolve over the course of the season."
COUGAR FAST FACTS
What: The UWM-Waukesha women's basketball team
2017-18: Finished 10-3 in Wisconsin Collegiate Conference (second place), 16-4 overall (The Cougars lost to UW-Marathon 98-50 in a WCC state tournament championship game at JustAgame Fieldhouse in Wisconsin Dells on Feb. 25)
Head Coach: David Beebe, second season (27-11 overall)
Assistant Coach: Jose Gonzales
Key Graduation Losses: first-team all-conference guards Justice Hawkins and Hannah Bricco
Players to Watch: sophomore guard/forward Taylor Peterson from Mukwonago, sophomore guard/forward Bri Jashinsky from Sussex Hamilton and sophomore post player Ariel Gonzales from Milwaukee Lutheran
Promising Newcomers: freshman guard Aleah Herron from Milwaukee Rufus King, freshman guard Rataeshia Hartfield from Milwaukee Rufus King and freshman post player Kylah Schmidt from Slinger