By Ashley Dunkak Kansas State Collegian
When the K-State women’s basketball team takes on Fort Hays State in its first exhibition game today at 7 p.m. in Bramlage Coliseum.
Coming off a 25-8 season (10-6 in Big 12 conference play) in 2008-09, the Wildcats set the bar high at the end of which they were ranked 20th in the country in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches’ Poll.
The frontcourt will feature senior Ashley Sweat and sophomores Branshea Brown and Jalana Childs. Senior Kari Kincaid will lead the backcourt which consists of junior Shalin Spani, sophomore Alina Voronenko and freshmen Brittany Chambers, Taelor Karr and Mariah White.
The Fort Hays State Lady Tigers have four returning starters with seniors Erica Biel, Naomi Bancroft, Kayla Klug and Audra Binford. While they acquired 10 new players, they managed to maintain nearly 75 percent of their scoring from last season.
Biel averaged a double-double at 15.9 points and 11.0 rebounds per game in 2008-09. Naomi Bancroft averaged 15.4 points per game, aided by 110 three point field goals.
One preseason blow to K-State is the loss of junior Kelsey Hill, who ruptured her ACL in practice recently and will be inactive for the duration of the season.
“We don’t have a lot of experience in our backcourt, and she was a player who has been in our program for some time,” Coach Deb Patterson said. “She had an understanding of what needed to be done to be successful at this level of competition.”
The Lady Tigers also have a junior benched due to a knee injury. Transfer Jacie Hoyt, from Wichita State, had been picked to start at point guard but got hurt playing pick-up ball in early October.
Patterson said K-State is integrating many new players, especially on the perimeter, with White, Chambers and Karr. She said Sweat will be the main returning post player, with Childs and Brown looking to significantly increase their playing time.
“It has been a while since we’ve had this much youth and inexperience playing a major role within our system, so it’s going to be a little different for us,” Patterson said. “I remember when Shalee Lehning, Danielle Zanotti, Marlies Gipson and Kelsey Nelson were coming into the program as young freshmen; they were still a little more experienced than this group is now.”
However, the two seniors the team does have, forward Sweat and guard Kincaid, show consistency and competence by putting up numbers that earn them seats at the top of the conference.
Sweat has 1,291 career points, fourth in the Big 12 Conference; 441 career rebounds, seventh in the Big 12; and 100 steals in the top 15 in the Big 12.
Kincaid has made 102 3-point field goals which is good for seventh among the nine returning players in the Big 12.
Patterson said with Sweat they have a very versatile player who is extremely talented, someone who is able to play a number of positions if need be.
“I think that she is best suited to play at the four spot, but she is the definition of a team player,” Patterson said. “She will do anything to help us succeed, so we approach this season with the thought that Ashley could play a number of positions.”
Patterson said Kincaid is a player who played a lot of minutes in a back-up point guard role but whose true position is shooting guard, so she expects to play multiple freshmen at point guard this year. However, Patterson said she is open to the idea of Kincaid playing point guard if things don’t go as planned.
“Personally I think playing point guard is the most difficult position to play at our level,” Kincaid said. “If [freshmen] are playing point guard that means that they are the best option for us to have. So I am not nervous at all, and Coach Patterson trusts them, then I trust them.”
Patterson said it will take some time to figure out who is going to start and play major minutes because they do not know yet what all the younger players will bring in a game. She said they know what they need to improve on and are very anxious to learn, but she is not sure if they know what it takes to be successful at this level yet.
“It is very, very different experience than what we’ve had in the past,” Patterson said. “The more experienced players that we do have are depending on our younger players to step up quickly and play to the level that is needed.”