Darling throws wide recruiting net for NAU women’s hoops

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                </div>Last year, the new women’s basketball coach at Northern Arizona University had to go into battle with someone else’s troops.  Now she has her own recruits and her success, or […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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Last year, the new women’s basketball coach at Northern Arizona University had to go into battle with someone else’s troops.  Now she has her own recruits and her success, or lack thereof, will be more realistically evaluated.

It wasn’t until this time last year that Sue Darling was hired away from her assistant-coaching position at University of Arizona, so preparation for the 2012-13 season took precedent over any last-minute recruiting.  The result was not pretty: an 8-21 overall record and eighth-place finish (7-13) in the Big Sky Conference.

But, as they say, she ‘owns’ the team that will take the floor in November.  Darling has added 11 of her own recruits.

And now that her roster appears to be full, it’s easy to see how recruiting efforts have differed from those of her predecessor, Laurie Kelly, who left the program after five disappointing seasons.

Based on the activity of the last three months, it would appear the concentration of energy has been focused on California.  Darling and her staff just added Priscilla Brooks a couple of days ago.  The 5’10” forward and center averaged 18.7 points and seven rebounds a game for her high school in Riverside.

In May, it was Shay Young, a San Diego native who played her freshman year at New Mexico State.  The 6’0″ forward played in 23 games for the Aggies after averaging 22 points a game as a senior at Mount Miguel High School in Spring Valley, CA.

And in April, the Lumberjacks signed Avonna Lee to a national letter of intent.  The 5’11” guard from Elk Grove, CA, was a prolific contributor all over the floor at Pleasant Grove High School, averaging 17 points, nine rebounds, four assists, a couple of steals, and one block  per game.  She is the school’s all-time leading three-point shooter and holds the record for assists.

But, if you look a little deeper, there is an obvious difference in this year’s roster.  It includes recruits from six different states, including Arizona – plus one from Bulgaria for good measure.

Last year’s roster was made up almost entirely of players culled from Arizona and California – except for one that traveled from Alaska to play for the ‘Jacks.  Seven each from Arizona and California.

The eight that committed to the program back in November included just one player from Arizona, Rene’ Coggins, a 5’7″ guard from Mountain View High School in Mesa.  The First Team All-Conference selection averaged 11 points a game for the Toros with 48 percent accuracy from the field and 87 percent at the line.

That’s it.  One local recruit.

Coggins is joined in that group by Destiny Amezquita, a high-scoring guard from San Antonio; Brittani Lusain, a 5’8 guard from the nationally-prominent Mater Dei Catholic high school in San Diego; Catelyn Preston, a 5’11’ guard who can also play in the post, from Oregon City, Ore; Hunter Thomas, a 6’1″ forward from Stilwell, Kan., who provides power inside; and two recruits from Colorado, 6’1 center Bradlee Cotton and 5’11’ guard/forward Taylor Leyva.

The Bulgaria import is the only player who is not a freshman.  Bisera Peshkova has a year of college seasoning after playing for Central Arizona College in Coolidge.  Darling calls her a “lights-out shooter” and will look for her to help make up the scoring void left with the graduation of Amy Patton, who shattered the NAU all-time scoring mark with 1,938 points and broke a single-season scoring record that had stood for 25 years.  Last year she posted double-digit scoring in 24 games.

It’s not easy to replace a player like Patton.  They don’t come along that often.

But it looks like it will be a collective effort next season.  And, actually, that generally works better than putting the load on one player, even one as talented as Patton.

Maybe that’s the formula that has been lacking the past few years.

We’ll soon find out.

(Photo: NAU Athletics)