Three years ago, Linda Lappe was approaching her first game as the head coach of the Colorado women's basketball team.

The Buffaloes were coming off of two consecutive losing seasons and they had not been to the NCAA Tournament in seven years.

Tuesday night, on the three-year anniversary of Lappe's debut, she will start her fourth season at CU, as the Buffs visit Colorado State (1-0) in the season opener.

Ranked No. 19 in both preseason polls (Associated Press and the USA Today Coaches poll), the Buffs have already jumped to No. 17 in the latest AP poll that was released on Monday. Dating back to last December, it's the 17th consecutive time CU has been in the AP Top 25.

Seeking a second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, Colorado's program is in much better shape than it was three years ago, and the future looks just as bright, if not brighter, than the recent past.

"I think in certain terms, yes, we've been able to change the culture and get players in here that have a winning mindset, a winning mentality," Lappe said when asked if the program is where she hoped it would be after three years. "In terms of building our culture and where we're at, yes, it's kind of where we would expect to be.

"One of my sayings is you get what you expect. If we didn't expect to be here today, then we probably wouldn't be here today. At the same time, as you go forward, the expectations get even better. We just want to make sure that we keep getting better."


Advertisement

Lappe has compiled a 64-37 record in her three years at CU, including 25-7 last year. She led the Buffs to the Women's NIT in each of her first two seasons and then last year broke a nine-year NCAA Tournament drought.

"All but four of them know exactly what that looks like -- how hard you have to work to make it to the tournament and then what getting in looks like and what that first game will look like," Lappe said.

CU was upset in the opening round of the tournament last year by Kansas. But, that seems to have only fueled the Buffs' fire going forward.

Colorado appears to have the tools to get back, but as it embarks on year No. 4 of the Lappe era, there are some question marks about this team, including:

1. How will the Buffs replace two-time All-Pac-12 point guard Chucky Jeffery?

Jeffery did a lot of everything for the Buffs. She graduated as the only player in program history to rank among the top six on CU's career charts for scoring (sixth, 1,644 points), rebounding (fifth, 921), assists (fourth, 481) and steals (fourth, 283). She led the Buffs in all four categories last season.

Lappe has already had to replace one all-time great, though. After her first season, the Buffs lost Brittany Spears, who is the program's all-time leading scorer. CU actually got better in the post-Spears years.

Although CU may not have any one player that does what Jeffery did, the Buffs do have players who can fill specific holes and pick up the slack.

Lappe is confident players will step up. While it'll be a challenge trying to replace Jeffery, Lappe said, "I think it can also be a really positive thing for us."

2. Who will emerge as the go-to scorer?

Jeffery took over at times in recent years, but this team has several talented players. Even as good as Jeffery was, she often didn't even lead the team in scoring. In fact, in 32 games last year, Jeffery led the team in points just 10 times.

This season, CU will look to a variety of players, including senior guard Brittany Wilson, sophomore forward Arielle Roberson and juniors Lexy Krel and Jen Reese, among others.

"One of the trademarks of our team has been our consistency and the fact that we have a very balanced team," Lappe said. "I think that's going to be very true again this year and what you're going to see when you watch our team play."

3. How will this team be different from last year?

Although they lost just one key player, the makeup of the team figures to be different as players have developed and learned new roles.

With Jeffery leading the way, there was a lot of focus on CU's backcourt. Now, that focus figures to shift to the front court. Center Rachel Hargis and forwards Reese, Roberson and Jamee Swan all have the potential for breakout seasons.

The Buffs can also score from the perimeter, however, with Wilson, Lexy Kresl and even Jasmine Sborov hitting shots.

"It's nice to have five players on the floor who can score," Lappe said. "There's not a lot of teams that can probably say that, but we have five players that a lot of times can score from anywhere on the floor.

"It'll be interesting to see who continues to develop. Fans are really going to enjoy seeing players get better and the players that have gotten better over the summer."

4. Will the freshmen have much of an impact?

There's no question that, at least early, CU will rely on its veterans. The Buffs have three seniors (Hargis, Wilson and Ashley Wilson), three juniors (Kresl, Reese and Sborov) and two sophomores (Roberson and Swan) who all figure to play big minutes. Redshirt freshman Lauren Huggins wants a big role, too.

That could leave precious few minutes for the four true freshmen -- Zoe Beard-Fails, Desiree Harris, Haley Smith and Bri Watts. Of the four, Beard-Fails and Smith appear to be most ready to contribute.

5. Can the Buffs handle expectations?

After spending the last few years trying to learn how to win and get noticed, the Buffs are now on the national radar. Most preseason publications put them in the top 20 to start the year, and Pac-12 media and coaches picked them to finish third in a tough conference.

CU will have a target on its back throughout the year. Lappe, however, is confident that her team will remain focused.

"Yeah, because you put everything into perspective," she said. "We want everybody's best. As a competitor you don't want a team's worst. You want to feel like you had to earn every win and earn every possession. To do that, other teams have to play their best.

"That's ultimately what you get when you have that ranking to start the season."

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.