If she looks like a post player and acts like a post player is she a post player?
Sarah Stewart and Lindsay Layland could argue both sides of that point. They are tall women on the University of Puget Sound’s basketball team. Both have been designated as a “center” for the Loggers.
Peel back the layers, and you’ll find two unconventional post players.
The 6-foot-1 Stewart is from Burlington-Edison High School in Skagit County. Not only has she been the team’s leading rebounder the past two seasons, she has been among the Northwest Conference leaders in the category. But her preferred means of scoring comes via the perimeter shot.
The 5-11 Layland, from Homer, Alaska, is a bit undersized for what the Loggers have asked her to do. A starter the past two seasons offering little offensive upside, she has been asked to be the team’s interior defensive stopper.
Both of them had the ideal role model when they arrived at UPS under former coach Suzy Barcomb in 2009. Natasha Ludwig was the Loggers’ tireless center.
“She went to work on us,” Layland said.
Layland’s style matched Ludwig’s well. The transformation has taken Stewart much longer.
Growing up, Stewart always saw herself as a guard. She once asked her elementary school coach if she could be the team’s point guard, only to be angrily rebuked because she was the tallest girl in the school.
The older she got, the more she perfected her outside shot. In junior high, she earned the green light to shoot the 3-pointer at will.
That is what the Loggers inherited when Stewart arrived to UPS – a tall, strong young woman who wasn’t accustomed to battling in the paint.
“I don’t mind the physical play,” Stewart said, “as long as I don’t get hurt.”
Stewart has been one of third-year coach Loree Payne’s biggest offseason projects. For the first time in her career, Stewart is the undisputed starter. And while she isn’t a back-to-the-basket center, she takes up plenty of front-line space.
“She has developed a little more of an aggressive approach. And she is the player who has grown the most – emotionally, physically and (in) maturity,” Payne said. “The biggest thing for her is confidence.”
She has increased her rebounding to 7.4 per game, but her most notable surge has come in shooting closer to the basket. She is taking fewer 3-point shots, and is shooting a team-best 46.1 percent from the floor, one mark of a good inside player.
“I’ve had to change my mindset of starting in (the post) and going out to the 3-point line. I set a screen,” Stewart said. “It has been more of a mindset change than a physical change.”
Layland’s development has seen the opposite – no mindset change, but a big physical alteration.
After last season – her second as a starter – Layland decided to study abroad for six months, at the University of Sydney in Australia.
She called it a “life decision,” knowing she would be sacrificing a bit of her senior basketball season.
She took courses in her psychology major. She traveled around the country. And she got to hang out with a lot of cool Australians.
She also got to play a basketball season of sorts for her residential college, which she compared to a massive dormitory. It consisted of four weeks of training and practice, followed by four games in a week.
“We lost the championship by one point,” Layland said.
When she returned to UPS in late November, she was no longer the strongest player. She is still fit, but she had become very lean.
“Last year and the year before, she was so strong, she was able to push people around,” Payne said. “Coming back this year, she has grown a lot as far as maturity, so she is a little more agile. We are trying to figure out how to use that.”
What is clear now is that she will come off the bench.
“Even if I end up not starting a single game for the rest of the season, and fill the role as a bench player, or team cheerleader – it was worth it,” Layland said. “I gained so many experiences, and I gained so much that not starting won’t make or break that.”
PUGET SOUND basketball preview
Coach: Justin Lunt, seventh season (101-56 record)
Last season: 20-7 overall, 11-5 Northwest Conference (tied for 2nd)
Projected starting lineup: C Riggs Yarbro, 6-7, sr.; PF Dan Cheledinas, 6-7, jr.; SF Derek Jobe, 6-4, so.; SG Ryan Rogers, 6-1, sr.; PG Rex Holmes, 5-11, sr.
Key reserves: PF Gabe Borboa, 6-7, sr.; SF Rex Nelson, 6-4, jr.; SF A.J. Maw, 6-2, jr.; PG Matt Reid, 5-11, fr.
Outlook: After narrowly missing the NCAA Division III tournament last season, Lunt went right to work in the offseason replacing three key outgoing seniors – Kaleb Shelton-Johnson, Anthony Gittens and Edric Egberuare. Fourteen new players were brought in, which should give UPS substantial depth to be more up-tempo and pressure-oriented. With Jobe, Rogers and Erin Barber, the Loggers should be a better perimeter-shooting team, but the No. 1 scoring option will likely be Yarbro, a crafty senior who can be effective with his back to the basket or shooting mid-range jumpers. As the season goes on, team chemistry and maturity should improve on a week-to-week basis – hopefully in time to make a run for the conference title.
NWC schedule (all games at 8 p.m. unless noted): Jan. 2 vs. Pacific Lutheran; Jan. 4 vs. Willamette; Jan. 11 at Linfield; Jan. 12 at Lewis & Clark; Jan. 18 at George Fox; Jan. 19 at Pacific; Jan. 25 vs. Whitworth; Jan. 26 vs. Whitman, 6 p.m.; Jan. 29 at PLU; Feb. 2 at Willamette; Feb. 8 vs. Lewis & Clark; Feb. 9 vs. Linfield; Feb. 15 vs. Pacific; Feb. 16 vs. George Fox.
Coach: Loree Payne, third season (31-21 record)
Last season: 13-13 overall, 9-7 NWC (tied for fourth)
Projected starting lineup: C Sarah Stewart, 6-1, sr.; PF Amanda Forshay, 6-0, so.; SF Emily Sheldon, 5-11, fr.; SG Kelsey McKinnis, 5-8, sr.; PG Ashley Agcaoili, 5-6. so.
Key reserves: PG Olivia Roberts, 5-6, so.; C Katy Ainslie, 6-1, so.; SF Erin Stumbaugh, 5-8, so.; SG Taylor Jones, 5-6, jr.
Outlook: The transformation from gritty and defensive-minded under former coach Suzy Barcomb to more of the up-tempo, transition team that Payne wants is ongoing. The former University of Washington star continues to bring in tall, athletic wing players. This season, it is Sheldon and her sweet shooting stroke from Portland who joins Forshay and Stumbaugh in that mold. Their presence should help the scoring prowess of McKinnis, whom Payne called “the most skilled player” she has coached at UPS. When she is finished, McKinnis should leave in the top five in career scoring for the Loggers. Agcaoili is the point guard of choice, but her inconsistency has brought on a platoon at that position with Roberts – at least for now.
NWC schedule (all games 6 p.m. unless noted): Jan. 2 vs. Pacific Lutheran; Jan. 4 vs. Willamette; Jan. 11 at Linfield; Jan. 12 at Lewis & Clark; Jan. 18 at George Fox; Jan. 19 at Pacific; Jan. 25 vs. Whitworth; Jan. 26 vs. Whitman, 4 p.m.; Jan. 29 at PLU; Feb. 2 at Willamette; Feb. 8 vs. Lewis & Clark; Feb. 9 vs. Linfield; Feb. 15 vs. Pacific; Feb. 16 vs. George Fox.Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 todd.milles@ thenewstribune.com @ManyHatsMilles firstname.lastname@example.org