MSU Billings Women Named Team of the Week
Janiel Olson (22) is the leading rebounder in the GNAC and is the only player to average in double-digits with 10.6 per contest.
Janiel Olson (22) is the leading rebounder in the GNAC and is the only player to average in double-digits with 10.6 per contest.
Bobbi Knudsen (21) leads the GNAC in several major offensive categories and is a top candidate for 2013-14 Player of the Year.
Bobbi Knudsen (21) leads the GNAC in several major offensive categories and is a top candidate for 2013-14 Player of the Year.

Monday, January 27, 2014
by Evan O'Kelly, Media Relations Assistant

PORTLAND, Ore. – Take a glance at the Montana State University Billings women’s basketball roster and you won’t find very much depth in where the 15-woman squad calls home. Head coach Kevin Woodin’s entire roster is from the state of Montana and while his players don’t stretch far from their home state, the depth of the team is second-to-none.

“Lately we have shown a lot of maturity and have been playing at a high level,” Woodin commented on the team’s four-game winning streak and two recent victories over Saint Martin’s and Western Oregon last week. “Our depth has helped us a lot, and we have had some great play from our bench recently.”

Picked to win the GNAC in the preseason coaches’ poll, the Yellowjackets have completed the first half of their conference slate with a 7-2 record and share first place with Western Washington. MSUB is 14-5 overall and a perfect 9-0 at home inside of Alterowitz Gym. Senior guard Bobbi Knudsen has lived up to the preseason Player of the Year hype, helping confirm that the Yellowjackets appear a lock to challenge for the 2013-14 GNAC title. Behind the success however have been several setbacks and challenges that MSUB has had to overcome.

Most recently, the ‘Jackets were dealt a blow in the form of a season-ending injury to Annie DePuydt, a junior guard who had started 16 games and was averaging 8.1 points per contest this season. “Annie was having a great season and losing her was definitely tough,” Woodin commented on DePuydt’s season-ending surgery last week. “She defends well and shoots almost 50 percent from the field, but even last weekend people stepped up in her place and responded to the adversity.”

One of the keys to filling the void last weekend was the play of Alisha Breen, who scored 13 points and racked up six rebounds in 24 minutes off of the bench on Saturday. “We had a great performance out of Alisha this weekend,” said Woodin, adding, “that was the best I’ve seen her play on Saturday.”

While the Yellowjackets must rely on players like Breen and senior guard Austin Hanser to step up during the second half of the season, the foundation of the team is built on a core of all-conference caliber talent.

Kayleen Goggins and Janiel Olson are two of the most talented juniors in the GNAC, with the latter pacing the conference with 10.6 rebounds per game. Goggins, sporting a face mask after suffering a broken nose against Seattle Pacific on Jan. 11, defines grit and provides MSUB with a diverse scoring threat. “Kayleen is very tough-minded and has the ability to score inside,” Woodin said. “She can also spread the floor and shoot from the perimeter, and is a good defensive rebounder.”

For Olson, it is a similar aggressive mindset that makes her a vital part of the team. “Janiel gets 10-to-12 rebounds for us every game and does the dirty work,” Woodin commented on Olson’s presence underneath the basket. “She saves a lot of balls from going out, and she is also a much improved offensive player this year who has worked hard on her game.”

While Olson’s presence inside has been a key factor for the Yellowjackets, perhaps the biggest addition of all came in the form of 6’ 4” transfer Chelsea Banis, who has started all 19 games this season. “We were wondering how it would work mixing her in at first,” Woodin said regarding fitting Banis into the lineup. “She has been giving us consistent post play and a good inside presence, and she is a tremendous teammate who has gotten stronger as the year has progressed.”

Quinn Peoples is another important role player for MSUB, as she is averaging 8.3 points and 18.6 minutes so far this season. “Quinn has settled in and had a nice consistent year for us,” Woodin commented on the play of his junior forward. “She has always been a great 3-point threat, but she is much less streaky this season and has had an exceptional year for us.”

Behind a complete supporting cast of diverse talent, the Yellowjackets’ contender for GNAC Player of the Year in Knudsen is what pulls everything together. Knudsen ranks first in the conference in several major offensive categories, including assists (6.0), free-throw percentage (.887), assist-turnover ratio (1.9), and fifth in scoring (16.6). Knudsen also averages 5.0 rebounds per game, is shooting .456 from the floor, and is second in the GNAC in minutes per game at 34.0. While Knudsen’s numbers have greatly contributed to MSUB’s success, Woodin notes that there is another, less tangible factor that makes her a truly unique player.

“The true mark of a great leader is when you can get the people around you to play at a high level, and Bobbi is doing that,” Woodin said about the senior’s innate ability to read a defense and get her teammates the ball when they have chances to score. “She is extremely competitive but is very humble with her success, and as coaches we know we have a very special player who elevates the game of the players around her.”

Facing perhaps its toughest road trip of the season, MSUB travels to Bellingham on Thursday to battle Western Washington for first place, before crossing the border into Canada to take on Simon Fraser on Saturday. “Western is having a tremendous season and it will take a great effort to beat them there,” Woodin said regarding a team that has won six games in a row and 26-straight on its home court. “Carmen (Dolfo) has done a great job with that team, and it has been a very close game between us the last few years there.”

Simon Fraser, another team with momentum in the form of a three-game winning streak, is knocking on the door of first place as the Clan are just one game back of the Yellowjackets. “Simon Fraser is always tough, and they are very good in the half court with (Erin) Chambers,” Woodin commented on his team’s upcoming opponent that features the GNAC’s leading scorer. “Our last road trip we won both games, so hopefully we can keep that mentality. This is a fun conference in that it is so balanced, and you have to be ready to go every day.”