UC Merced's first women's basketball season was a trying one for head coach Kevin Pham.
It wasn't so much that the team struggled to a 3-21 season, adversity is expected for new programs.
It was the manner in which the Bobcats were forced to struggle.
Pham wants to push the ball on offense and play Merced's version of 40 minutes of hell on defense.
It wasn't an option in year one. He just didn't have the pieces. With his first full recruiting class in the books to complement six returners, Pham believes it won't be an issue in UCM's second intercollegiate campaign.
"We definitely had some holes last year, and hopefully we've addressed them," Pham said. "We have a lot more post size and just all-around depth.
"And we've added some girls who can just knock down shots.
"I'm definitely excited about the style we're going to be able to play this season. The goal is to get teams out of their comfort zones, and I think we have the group to do it."
UC Merced opens its season at home this afternoon with the Oregon Institute of Technology coming to Hostetler Court. Tip-off is set for 2 p.m.
The Bobcats are led by returning all-conference guard Shelby Howard. She led the team in scoring as a freshman with over 16 points per game and finished 39th in NAIA Division 2.
She's joined by returning assist and steals leader Leticia Oceguera, top rebounder Kayla Polman and block leader Adrian Carmona.
The Bobcats also return backup guards Maya Campo and Samantha Oshiro.
"I think this group learned a lot from last year," Oceguera said. "We're definitely all much better players and our basketball IQ is higher.
"The girls we've added should really help us out. We're obviously bigger, but we also have more guards that can penetrate and score.
"There's just more skill all the way around."
Last year's Bobcats were pretty sound defensively, often holding teams below their scoring averages. Keeping pace with opponents' scoring and rebounding was a little more difficult.
Pham added five players that are 5-foot-10 or taller, including 6-foot-2 center Brittany Martinez, 6-foot forward Danielle Ward and former Merced High and Merced College sharpshooter Rebecca Schonauer (6-foot-1).
San Diego State transfer Alexis Wu and freshman Courtney Danna will provide scoring depth from the backcourt.
"We're still working on extending our defense the full 94 feet, but I'm very pleased with the work the girls have put in," Pham said. "We should definitely be better than last year. I'm excited to get going."
UC Merced men
The post-Aki Chambers era begins on Nov. 5
The reigning California Pacific Conference Player of the Year and UCM's all-time leading scorer, leaves some big shoes to fill after averaging over 20 point per game the last two seasons.
With nine players returning, head coach John Sykes has plenty of experience. The question is which player or combination of players will pick up the slack.
Seniors George Idehen and Martin Harris should lead the attack with their ability to create off of the dribble.
Sharpshooters Michael Pierick, Griffin Alexander and Kevin Ellsworth will fire away from the outside and sophomore center Ryan Edwards will look to clean things up on the inside.
Sykes has added size in JC transfers Robert Chappelle (6-foot-8) and Marshall Grasty (6-foot-5).
He's also collected some proven high school scorers in freshmen Drew Orr, Kenny Veliz, Daniel Pugh and Alez Del Real.
The Bobcats finished 10-21 a year ago.