ASHLAND -- For the third year in a row, the Southern Oregon women's basketball team has started the season 18-1. This year, that's largely thanks to two things: depth and defense. It turns out, the two go hand in hand.
"It's so nice being able to play fast since we have a deep bench," senior guard Toria Bradford said, "We can play all 13 of our girls and other teams don't have that bonus. We can press longer, because we know as soon as we get tired, we can tag our next teammate and they're going to come in and do it."
Bradford and fellow star, redshirt senior Remi Mejia see the ability to come in waves as a blessing, but it's something head coach Alex Carlson said many starters would see as a curse. The willingness of the team to have their minutes cut for the sake of the team is what allows them to play with a head of steam for all 40 minutes.
"A lot of starters would say, 'Hey, no, I want to get mine.' What's really impressive about people like Toria and Remi so far this season is they've gotten a lot of accoldates and they're able to do it in less minutes," Carlson said.
Former South Medford star and Division-1 Portland State guard Remi Meija said she hasn't seen this type of comraderie on a team she's played on in a long time.
"It's amazing to be part of a team where every single one of my teammates is special," Mejia said, "To see how hard they work and how positive they are, that's what makes this team a special one."
All of that feeds back into the idea that defense is what will win SOU a championship.
"As the season has progressed, our team has figured out how to play our defense more and they're getting used to it," Carlson said, "they're able to make more reads that they couldn't make at the beginning of the year."
So, now it's about getting over the hump. In each of the last two years, the team was extremely successful in the regular season. In 2015, they fell to Marian in the national championship game. Last season, they lost in the first round of the NAIA tournament. This year could be different.
"You set your standards awfully high when you reach the levels of success that we have," Carlson said, "We're now to the point where we can realistically could have a chance at a national championship this year."
"It's all about getting hot in a tournament setting and we have a team that could be getting hot at the right time."