New rotation system wearing down opponents, leading to wins

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Women's basketball head coach Bunky Harkleroad talks to the team during a game inside The Nest.

Clifton Jones

The fast paced offense of Sacramento State women’s basketball uses a continual rotation of players, which has been key to the Hornets 6-1 start.

The changing of players is similar to how a hockey coaches bring in new lineups every few minutes of the game.  

The idea of rotating a new line of players in and out came to Sac State women’s basketball head coach Bunky Harkleroad, when he was coaching at an National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics’ Berea College.

“The coaching staff at Berea [was] inspired by the idea of a fast pace offense that a Division III school Grinnell College in Iowa showed in games,” Harkleroad said. “It is based on playing with high intensity and to keep our players fresh in the game.”

Harkleroad’s system has so far been a positive as the team ranks first in the Big Sky Conference in offense, scoring 92.3 points per game.

“We are always going to try to wear down our opponents with the way we push the ball on offense and the way we always pressure on defense,” said assistant coach Kimberly Stephens.

 Stephens had the unique opportunity of being able to both play and coach the same system she played at Glenville State University, before coming to Sac State. As a player Stephens, led her team to a West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship and advanced to an NCAA tournament appearance in 2010-11.

Stephens said she had a similar experience that the players have had since Harkleroad came in October.

“It was an adjustment for me as a player because he came in my junior year at Glenville State University,” Stephens said. “Once we got the hang of his offense it was a fun and exciting way to play the game of basketball.”

Freshmen forward Hallie Gennett and guard Gigi Hascheff like the new style of play.

“It is so much different from the way I played at Reno High school because we had bigger players to post up,” Hascheff said. “We have a very small team which helps us play faster and we are able to wind down the other bigger schools because we don’t play their style of play.”

However, there are negative aspects of rotating players in and out constantly.

“The fatigue of players that stay in too long can lead to committing stupid fouls that put us in foul trouble, but we are getting better in that aspect,” Stephens said.

The idea of playing so fast on offense and so intense on defense with a full court press, is to create more chances off turnovers.

“We want to pressure the opponents in every possession and in order to do that, we need to play harder,” Harkleroad said. “I know the players want to play more minutes, but they are happy to be getting more shots off, rebounds and assists.”

In his years as a coach, Harkleroad said he has not seen a team that plays the same way against him, which bodes well for Sac State because most teams will have to adjust to the Hornet pressure.