It wasn't difficult for Kansas University's women's basketball team to exceed expectations last season.
This year's another matter.
Last year, the Jayhawks returned just one senior, graduated three starters and headed into their first practices with two point guard candidates, neither of whom had played so much as a minute of college ball. No matter. KU overachieved its way into the second Sweet 16 appearance in school history.
This year, the Jayhawks lose just one reserve, return all five starters -- including their point guard -- and their top six scorers and, oh yeah, signed a recruiting class at least one recruiting service rated as one of the best in the country.
``We're all excited about this upcoming season,'' KU coach Marian Washington said at Wednesday's media day. ``We have everyone coming back. ... The team we've got coming back is going to be pretty solid, and we have a freshman class we're excited about.
``All our players have experienced the Sweet 16. That makes it a lot easier. They have a far better understanding of what it's going to take this season. Their goals are very high, and they're ready to work to try to meet those goals.''
Such a season of perceived promise isn't unprecedented at KU. Kansas first went to the Sweet 16 in 1996 and returned a five-person senior class. The following year, the Jayhawks went 25-6 and won the Big 12's first regular-season title, but they lost in the second round of the NCAAs -- at home, no less.
And don't think Washington, who is ready to embark on her 26th season as KU's head coach, has forgotten.
``Yes, we got to the Sweet 16,'' she said. ``But we have to come back this year and prove it wasn't a fluke. If we don't get back there, it won't be because we're not working hard for that to happen.''
Unlike last season, when KU suited as few as 10 players a game, depth shouldn't be a factor this year. Kansas lists 14 on its roster this season, even with the loss of signee Dalchon Brown, who did not meet eligibility requirements.
``That should help us a lot,'' sophomore point guard Jennifer Jackson said. ``We had a lot of trouble last year. We couldn't press in the first half, because we'd get too tired. This year we have so much more depth. If somebody gets hurt or gets in foul trouble, we should have enough depth to be OK.''
Washington must wait to see if sophomore center Nikki White will be able to play this season. White, who averaged 3.3 points in 31 games last season with six starts, underwent offseason knee surgery.
``Our fingers are crossed,'' Washington said. ``If she's able to go in January, we'll play her.''
Washington also expects to play her darling yearlings plenty. KU's freshman newcomers are: Selena Scott, a 5-foot-6 guard; Dameyia Stepney, a 5-9 guard-forward; Kristin Geoffroy, a 6-6 center; and Katie Hannon, a 6-2 guard-forward.
``Selena Scott will help Jennifer Jackson in the backcourt,'' Washington said. ``She gives us some added shooting, and she adds some quickness. Dameyia can play anything from the 1 to the 3 (point to small forward). She adds quickness. We needed some size, and we got Kristin Geoffroy. We finally got a player over 6-3. She's going to take some time, but she'll be able to contribute. And Katie Hannon ... we're excited about her and her future with us. She's an outstanding shooter.''
The Jayhawks will open their exhibition season on Nov. 4 against Myjava of Slovak Republic. KU's regular season will begin on Nov. 15 against North Carolina in the State Farm Tip-Off Classic in West Lafayette, Ind.
Rankings: Three preseason polls have KU ranked among the top 10. Street&Smith;'s and the Women's Basketball Journal have Kansas at No. 7, while Athlon ranks KU 10th nationally.
Knee woes: Three KU players had offseason surgeries on their left knees. Senior Suzi Raymant had a torn anterior cruciate ligament repaired last April. Sophomore Nikki White underwent carticel replacement surgery over the summer. And sophomore Casey Pruitt also underwent arthroscopic surgery, her fourth knee surgery in four years. Raymant and Pruitt are expected to start practice Saturday, while White might not return until January.
Another newcomer: In addition to four freshman newcomers, KU will have the services of sophomore transfer Brooke Reves, a 6-foot forward from Denver who transferred from Wichita State and sat out last season under NCAA transfer guidelines. Reves is the identical twin sister of KU volleyball player Amanda Reves. Brooke Reves, a walk-on last season, was given a scholarship for this season.
-- Andrew Hartsock's phone number is 832-7216. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.