Kansas State women looking for an identity
The biggest thing coach Jeff Mittie is looking for in his first year at Kansas State is progress.
The Wildcats are coming off their first back-to-back losing seasons in the Big 12 since 2000 and 2001 and finished with an 11-19 overall mark a year ago.
“I don’t think there has been a winning identity and we are trying to get our team to buy into an offensive identity that is more efficient,” Mittie said. “We do believe that we are going to have to play inside-out basketball with our front line and that is different than they’ve done in the past.”
Mittie, who jumped across the conference from TCU, inherited a young roster and added a few transfers in an attempt to fill the large gap left after Leticia Romero’s high-profile transfer. The Wildcats return nine letterwinners including two starters and add four new faces.
Missouri hoping to improve in SEC standings
It is not easy to build a program in a conference that features three of the top five teams in the nation.
But Missouri coach Robin Pingeton was happy with the progress her Tigers made in the Southeastern Conference last season. They went 17-14 overall with a 6-10 record in conference play.
“There is so much parity in that league, and so many really good teams that I think another year of maturity, of experience, and other summer in the gym with our players helping them grow and develop will be very beneficial,” Pingeton said.
The biggest challenge will be overcoming the loss of starting point guard Liana Doty, who sustained a season-ending foot fracture. Pingeton said she is expecting to split time between Lindsey Cunningham and Juanita Robinson early.
The Tigers return Morgan Eye, who was chosen to the preseason All-SEC second team. She led the Tigers with 12.9 points per game and has more than 100 three-pointers in each of the last two years.
Kansas trying to get back to NCAAs
This year’s four seniors at Kansas started out with back-to-back NCAA Sweet 16 appearances their freshman and sophomore years.
They have also felt the lows of missing the tournament and finishing with a 13-19 record and 5-13 mark in the Big 12 last season.
“They took some ownership over what we struggled with last year, and the five of us spent time this summer reflecting and being honest about what we could have done differently,” coach Bonnie Henrickson said. “They have done a really good job of explaining to the freshman about the pitfalls they are going to see.”
The senior class is led by Chelsea Gardner, who was a preseason All-Big 12 selection. She led the Big 12 with 13 double-doubles, averaging 17.1 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. She is joined by Natalie Knight, Bunny Williams and Asia Boyd.
They will have their hands full with four freshmen, three sophomores and a transfer junior.
UMKC women have balance
Gone from UMKC’s women’s roster are the Western Athletic Conference’s leading scorer, Eilise O’Connor, and rebounder, Kim Nezianya, from last season. But third-year coach Marsha Frese expects the program to continue its growth in the WAC.
“We don’t talk about expectations, we talk about standards,” Frese said. “This team is hungry. It wants to put UMKC women’s basketball on the map.”
The Kangaroos return three starters. Taylor Leathers, Grace Mitchell and Calli White combined to average 22.3 points and 11 rebounds.
“We have more depth and balance this year than in any I’ve been here,” Frese said. “I’m excited to see how far that can take us.”
Around the area and the nation
▪ Nationally, the favorite is once again Connecticut, which picked up its ninth national title last season under Geno Auriemma. The Huskies return Associated Press preseason All-Americans Breanna Stewart and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. South Carolina, Notre Dame, Tennessee and Texas A&M round out the top five in the preseason AP poll.
▪ The Big 12 title will likely come down to a battle between Texas, Baylor and West Virginia. The coaches chose the Longhorns by a narrow margin over the Bears. Texas returns leading scorer Nneka Enemkpali. Kansas and Kansas State are projected to finish eighth and ninth.
▪ South Carolina was picked to win the Southeastern Conference and Tiffany Mitchell was tabbed as preseason Player of the Year. Tennessee and Texas A&M were picked second and third, with Missouri ranking 11th.
The Star’s Blair Kerkhoff contributed to this report