Sheila Sobchik

The Cal Poly women’s basketball team returns its top three scorers from a year ago, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the Mustangs will look the same this season.

In fact, Cal Poly might start as many as three of its six freshmen, head coach Faith Mimnaugh said Wednesday.

“The coaching staff has talked about three of them possibly starting for us come Friday,” Mimnaugh said. “This is one of our best recruiting classes ever.”

At the forefront of that recruiting class is 6-foot-1-inch freshman Bria Fields, who can play both forward spots.

“(Fields) has terrific size, an awesome post presence and awesome hands,” Mimnaugh said. “She needs work defensively still.”

Mimnaugh said not only is Fields going to be counted on heavily her freshman season, but she has the potential to become one of the top players in program history.

“Fields is in time going to be a double-digit performer,” Mimnaugh said. “Maybe in the 20s by the time she’s done here in terms of scoring. We feel like she’s someone who’s really going to develop for us.”

Mimnaugh will get her first in-game look at the six freshmen when the Mustangs host Division II Cal State Los Angeles for an exhibition contest that will not count toward either team’s record at 4 p.m. Friday in Mott Gym.

Cal Poly is coming off a 13-14 season in which it went 7-7 in Big West Conference play and beat Pacific 94-67 in the first round of the conference tournament before it exited with a 73-63 quarterfinal loss to UC Riverside.

In the Big West preseason polls, Cal Poly was picked to finish fifth among eight teams by media and seventh by coaches.

That doesn’t faze sophomore post player Megan Harrison, who averaged 9.2 points and 4.6 rebounds per game last season. She was second on the Mustangs in scoring average last year despite starting only seven games.

“It’s basically a new team,” Harrison said. “We have high expectations because we have a bunch of talented freshmen that came in. They bring speed and a positive attitude that we’ve needed in the past. It’s just a fresh base.”

At the core of the returning players is Jessica Eggleston, who can play either guard spot and her natural position of small forward. She led Cal Poly last season in points (11.8), rebounds (6.1) and steals (2.4).

“We have a good balance of returners and new people,” Eggleston said. “I like having a lot of new people. It brings a new look to the team. It’s a really different team than it’s been in the past.”

After receiving first-team All-Big West honors last season, Eggleston was named to the preseason all-conference team this year. She is only 335 points away this season from becoming just the seventh player in program history to eclipse 1,000 points for a career.

“Jessica has always been a special athlete,” Mimnaugh said. “She has become a very special basketball player. When we first recruited her, there weren’t a lot of takers because her ball-handling skills were lacking. She’s really worked on making better decisions on the court and made herself into a player who will be considered for Player of the Year in the Big West.”

Mimnaugh added that Eggleston is one of five players in the Big West with a chance to play in the WNBA or professionally overseas.

“We’ll make sure we get some WNBA scouts here to see (Eggleston),” Mimnaugh said.

Another key returning player is 5-2 senior point guard Sparkle Anderson, who has started the majority of games in the backcourt since her freshman season (2003-04), in which she averaged 9.9 points and 3.0 assists.

Last season, Anderson averaged 8.7 points, 4.1 assists and 2.0 steals.

“Sparkle is playing the best ball she’s ever played,” Mimnaugh said of the team’s recent practices.

Alongside Eggleston, Anderson and Fields, Mimnaugh said the projected starting lineup will be rounded out by junior guards Kyla Howell and Toni Newman, but nothing is set in stone.

“I’ve been tinkering with it for the last three weeks,” Mimnaugh said of the starting five.

Key reserves will include Harrison, sophomore guard Lisa McBride, junior forward Nicole Yarwasky and the five freshmen in addition to Fields – guards Ashlee Stewart, Shannon Gholar, Tamara Wells, Rebecca Tratter and Brittany Asplund.

“We’re hoping that at least rebounding-wise we’re going to have that concern addressed with the recruitment of Tratter, who’s a beast on the boards,” Mimnaugh said. “Shannon Gholar can shoot the three and drive to the basket, much like Tamara Wells.”

As for style of play, the Mustangs will continue with the run-and-gun, full-court press schemes Mimnaugh has used since she took the helm for the 1997-98 season.

“We’re a pressing team – that’s never going to change,” Harrison said. “We’re going to press the entire game whether we’re up or down. We’re going to try to run on people, we’re going to be a high scoring, up-tempo kind of team.”

Eggleston agreed.

“I see coach going probably 13, maybe 14 deep,” Eggleston said. “Coach is looking at the best group that works well together. Our 13 will beat the other team’s seven.”

It’s a style Harrison loves playing in.

“I love playing in that,” Harrison said. “I think it’s so much fun to outrun people and be more aggressive and basically scare people. They panic, make mistakes and it’s a lot of fun to play that way.”

After a pair of exhibition contests, the Mustangs officially open a grueling nonconference schedule Nov. 11 at Nevada before hosting Pac-10 member Oregon State in a crucial game Nov. 14. Cal Poly then visits Santa Clara, which reached the NIT last year and is ranked No. 49 in the nation by to begin the season, on Nov. 17.

“I would have preferred to get a couple confidence-boosting (regular-season) games in early,” Mimnaugh said. “We don’t have that luxury. We’ve got some top-notch opponents.”

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