From the outside looking in, the expectations for the No. 6 Lady Blues may not look that different from any other year. But for head coach Ron McHenry, the graduation of six players and eight new faces to the basketball program has shifted the focus.
“I’ve had to regroup my thinking and what I want to do early because there are so many new kids,” said McHenry. “I really have to slow down what we’re doing and simplify it, which doesn’t make us the best team possible yet. It’s a different process for me because I’m fast-paced-let’s-go-now. But I’ve had to slow down with this team and be patient with them.”
But the critics are not patient, as the Lady Blues were picked to finish second in the MIAA preseason poll behind No. 3 Emporia State. The Hornets lost three starters but return big names like forward Michelle Stueve and MIAA Freshman of the Year, point guard Cassondra Boston.
“It’s just a reflection of who they had back,” said McHenry. “Polls are just kind of a reflection of how we finished last year. Nobody knows really who has who until they see them.”
The Lady Blues return only one starter, senior forward Amanda Holmes, but return All-American senior guard Corkey Stiger, who finished second on the team in scoring without starting a game.
“I try not to worry about preseason polls. What really matters is what you do during the season,” said Holmes. “But I take that as a compliment actually, losing six seniors is always hard. … We just have to come together as a team and hopefully do better.”
The Lady Blues will have to come together fast, as the schedule is full of tests early. The Lady Blues will host No. 12 Texas A&M Commerce in the WIBW Holiday Classic, a team that ended the Lady Blues’ season in the South Central Regional Championship last year 71-70. The Lady Blues will then take to the road to play No. 9 Drury in early December.
“This group needs to be tested early,” said McHenry. “We need to find out what we do and don’t have. Right now we are so concerned about ourselves we really haven’t talked about our opponents. It is a good schedule and we’re going to find out very quickly what we’re missing and what we have.”
What the Lady Blues have is eight new players, most of whom will have to step up early. Possible breakthroughs include Cincinnati Technical School junior guard transfer Janice Bright. Bright, who has been described as a mix between Stiger and Washburn 2005 Player of the Year Jennifer Harris, averaged 22.4 points per game last year.
“She is a scoring type player and controls a game offensively and some defensively,” said McHenry. “Her game on paper is supposed to be the best out there.”
Other new impact players include junior forward Regiane Araujo and sophomore guard Brette Ulsaker. Araujo, a 6-foot-4 Brazilian center, reminds McHenry of All-American Lady Blues forward Carla Sintra.
“She has great size, hands and foot work,” said McHenry. “If we get her into game shape, she should be a factor because of her size and what she can bring to the table.”
Ulsaker, a Division I Utah transfer, is expected to start at the point. The role will eventually be shared with returning junior guard Jessica Mainz. Mainz will once again have to make the transition from soccer to basketball.
“Jess is very talented, smart and competes well,” said McHenry. “You don’t excel in both sports at a high level without bringing what I like, competitiveness and toughness. What she brings comes very quickly because she has all those naturally.”