The transition became decidedly more pronounced, however, as four key players, all eligible to return this season, transferred to other schools or chose not to play. That left the Missionaries with just one experienced veteran to lead the way this winter.
That one veteran is a good one, though. Amanda Bradford, an athletic 5-foot-10 junior forward, earned second-team all-conference honors in each of her first two seasons at Whitman. She averaged 14.2 points and 7.2 rebounds last season to lead the Missionaries in both categories.
"I want to see Amanda really maximize her leadership role this year, both on and off the court," Crosslin said. "She will do a great job for us, and the players really respect her."
Other returning players include sophomores Becca Curd, who averaged seven points a night while starting several games last season, and letter-winners Stephanie Kafoury and Faye Hutchison.
Crosslin expects both the 5-6 Curd and 5-7 Kafoury to contribute in a number of ways. "Both women show a lot of experience and leadership on the court. They are very encouraging and energetic players, and their pressure game experience should help us down the stretch."
Crosslin said Hutchison, the smaller of her trio of sophomore returnees at 5-foot-2, will join forces with a pair of newcomers, Lori Demski and Cara Longinotti, to give the Missionaries point production and defensive aggressiveness in the backcourt.
Demski, a 5-4 junior transfer from Phoenix College, averaged 14 points and six rebounds last season while making her all-conference defensive team. She was third in the nation in free throw percentage.
Longinotti is a 5-6 freshman who played last season at St. Georges High School in Spokane.
The big addition to this year's team, both literally and figuratively, is 6-foot-2 junior post player Anna Saltonstall. She averaged 12 rebounds and eight points as a senior at Edmonds-Woodway High School but then opted to concentrate on academics her first two years at Whitman.
Saltonstall's only downside is her plans for the second semester. She plans to abroad, which means the Missionaries will lose their starting post player for most of the conference season.
Other players new to the roster this winter include two athletes better known for their exploits in other sports. Shifting their athleticism to the hardwoods are Donna Hager, 6-0 junior fixture on the volleyball squad, and Sara Sakamoto, a 5-7 junior who helped the soccer team advance to the conference playoffs last fall.
Rounding out the roster are Paula Johnson, a sophomore playing her first season of collegiate ball, and Dayna Erickson, a 5-foot-8 freshman who averaged 10 rebounds and six points last season at Franklin-Pierce High School in Tacoma, Wash.
Crosslin heaps high praise on the work habits of Johnson and Sakamoto. "Paula is only 5-foot-5, but she's extremely strong, rebounds well and plays power forward. Both she and Sara have a tremendous work ethic and great fundamentals. I expect both players to contribute to the inspiration and motivation of the team throughout the course of the season."
Crosslin, a four-year starter at Whitman who graduated in 1988, said this year's team as a whole has shown a strong desire to learn and improve. "They have shown that desire from day one," she said. "They definitely want it. They want to win. They enjoy being pushed to excel."
One of the biggest challenges facing her team this year, Crosslin said, is learning a new and relatively complicated style of play.
"We are running a very sophisticated system, which is all new to the women," she said. "With 12 defenses and a number of offenses in place, we are asking them to memorize and use a great deal of information in every game."
Helping Crosslin install the new system are a pair of highly qualified assistants, Marvin Williams and Marcella Weissback Rietz.
Williams, who began coaching with Crosslin during her earlier head coaching stint at Bellevue (Wash.) High School, is experienced with the defensive schemes being used. From an offensive standpoint, he played the point and off guard spots during his prep and collegiate careers. Working with players on individual position play is one of his responsibilities.
Williams said the Missionaries have the potential to surprise some teams once league season rolls around. "They have a lot of basketball smarts, and they learn very quickly," he said.
Rietz, a team captain during her playing days at Whitman, also is working one-on-one with players while helping refine the team's overall attitude and motivation. "The players have tremendous respect for Marcella," Crosslin said. "She has very strong fundamentals and a lot of creative ideas for drills and maximizing the effectiveness of players."
Schools expected to field some of the stronger teams in the Northwest Conference this season include Pacific, which advanced to nationls last season, as well as Whitworth, Willamette and George Fox.
Crosslin cites two primary goals for her first season at the helm of her alma mater. "We want to make this season a positive experience for this team, and we want to lay the foundation for a strong basketball program at Whitman."
Key components of that foundation, she stressed, are hard work, dedication and high expectations matched by high levels of support. All she asks of her players is that they play hard. Try hard.
"Can't means won't, and won't means pushups," she said.