Coach Bunky (no, it’s not his given name) Harkleroad has carried Hornet women’s basketball to record heights this season.
The Sac State women's basketball team has taken quickly to first-year coach Bunky Harkleroad's frenetic system, establishing school records for scoring and three-point shooting. (Photo: Bob Solorio)
The Hornets’ scorekeeper has trouble keeping up with the squad that twice has established new school and conference marks for points in a game. Sac State scored 111 points against Weber State on Feb. 1, breaking the record 110 set Jan. 23 vs. North Dakota.
When the successful Division II coach was hired several weeks before the season to replace his predecessor, who had taken another job, some worried whether the Hornets would maintain their winning ways. Bunky’s bombers not only have won but done so with flair, becoming a hot ticket at The Nest, where they have won 10 of 11 games, and on the road.
“We draw decent road crowds because of our up-tempo style of play,” he says.
“Up-tempo” understates the frenetic pace the Hornets play from start to finish that routinely wears down opponents. One recalls former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson’s legendary “Forty Minutes of Hell,” as this scrappy squad plays pressure defense and runs and guns in a manner that would make Indiana’s Branch McCracken’s 1953 national champion “Hurryin’ Hoosiers” blush.
“This is a good group that has worked very hard to adopt our system,” Harkleroad says. He’s all the more impressed because of the team’s relative inexperience. Save for veteran starters Alle Moreno and Fantasia Hilliard, many on the current team played few minutes under the former regime.
This increases the steep learning curve for Division I basketball, which is especially intense for newcomers. “Several of our [players] are right out of high school and have to step up right away in pressure situations,” he says. “That’s particularly tough on the road in front of hostile crowds.”
Even so, the Hornets have risen to most challenges and made believers of their Big Sky Conference opposition – as well as the large crowds that routinely pack The Nest. Those fans have enthusiastically embraced Harkleroad’s aggressive style of basketball. For his part, the coach is enthused about the future. “We’ve had some good prospects looking at Sac State,” he says.
Better players means greater roster depth; that’s key because injuries have played a major role in this year’s losses. Still, Harkleroad pins responsibility for most of the team’s defeats on himself. His confidence, however, is unshaken.
“I believe that we have a shot to win the league and the conference tournament,” he says. That’s the mindset that has Hornet women’s basketball playing to a level that has made it the best show in town. – Alan Miller