Boxers show continued improvement under coaches Sharon Rissmiller and Tim Cleary

After the first month of practice, the Pacific women’s basketball team has experienced some early challenges.

With a number of early-season and pre-existing injuries, the Boxers are practicing with limited numbers and some players are learning new positions. December will be a bit of a challenge for the Boxers, but head coach Sharon Rissmiller is confident that her team will bounce back from the adversity and be competitive in the Northwest Conference.

“We are focusing on getting people healed and healthy,” Rissmiller said. “We’re going to be piecing things together as the season goes along and catching those players up to where the team currently is. That is going to be our biggest challenge.”

After going undefeated in their first six games last season, the Boxers recorded their second consecutive winning season, going 14-10 overall and finishing fifth in the NWC with a 7-9 record.

The Boxers were among the top of the conference in four different statistical categories. The squad led the NWC with 10.8 steals per game, and the Boxers ranked third in three-point shooting (32 percent), free throw shooting (72 percent), and opponent scoring average (54 points per game).

Rissmiller credits her team’s defense for much of its success last season and feels that bringing the same intensity and pace again this season will be beneficial to a competitive conference. The Boxers will also put more emphasis on offense, identifying their shooters and the timing of their shots.

“That’s part of the success that we’ve had in the past couple of years is identifying who our scorers are, when they should be scoring and where they should be scoring from,” Rissmiller said.

After finishing fifth last season, the Boxers will look to work their way into the top-four of the NWC. With a talented group that has done a great job of coming together and being a cohesive unit, Rissmiller believes this group will be a contestant at the NWC tournament in February.

“They share the basketball very well and are unselfish,” she said. “They have a lot of qualities of becoming a top-four team, but every game in our conference is close and every game is competitive. One free throw makes a difference, one missed block out makes a difference.”

Last season, the Boxers graduated three key starters, including two-time second team All-NWC selection Paige Jensen. The Boxers have two seniors on the squad this season, but everyone on the team has added to the Boxers’ strengths and intensity in their first month of practice.

“We have all types of leaders on our squad,” said Rissmiller. “Whether it being the high energy play maker, the positive vocal player on the court or the more silent hardest worker, everyone has stepped up and taken on different responsibilities to that leadership role.”

The Pacific men are coming off a 15-10 season, the program’s best record since the 1999-2000 team that reached the NCAA Division III Tournament. The Boxers finished fifth in the Northwest Conference standings with a 9-7 record and remained in contention for a NWC tournament berth until the final week of the season.

Head coach Tim Cleary credits much of the success of that team to the program’s four seniors, led by All-NWC selections Colin Wester and Charles Mosley, and their ability to quickly learn and thrive under his complex offensive and defensive schemes.

“I think it’s all been coming together for some time,” Cleary said. “Last year, the building blocks that we put into place over the first two years were established and propelled us into a very solid year. A lot of credit goes to those four seniors, who really hung in when we were getting the program started.”

As Cleary looks ahead to the 2013-14 season, he knows there will be holes to fill with the departure of Wester, Mosley, Andrew Beatty and Dustin Bowser to graduation. But he believes that the transition will be less rocky thanks to the continuity that the Boxers see with 12 returning players who understand the system and Cleary’s expectations.

“The more experience our guys have in the system, the more effective they can be in helping the newcomers learn quickly and adapt quickly to something new,” Cleary said. “As players grow in the system over time and the more the culture gets established, we can be more efficient in our teaching and the quicker we can move in getting ready for the season.”

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