Newcomers, new challenges hope to push Wildcats higher

Head coach Jeff Mittie instructs his team while a free-throw is being shot during the second round of the Sunflower Showdown on Feb 13, 2016 in Bramlage Coliseum. The Jayhawks fell to the Wildcats for the fifth consecutive time in the series, losing 81-67. (File Photo Rodney Dimick | The Collegian)

After a 19-win season with the proverbial “cherry on top” in the form of the school’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2012, K-State Head Coach Jeff Mittie was pretty relaxed and jovial meeting with the media for the first time since his team’s 73-47 season-ending loss to South Carolina in the second round of the tournament.

Since the tournament, good fortune has come Mittie’s way in the form of new players and a two-year contract extension that will keep him at K-State through the 2021-22 season.

“I appreciate the commitment John (Currie) and the athletic administration has made to women’s basketball,” Mittie said. “I appreciate their commitment to my staff … I am where I want to be.”

Despite the season-ending loss to top-seeded South Carolina, Mittie has seen a confidence boost in the program as players realize that they can get out there and compete with the best teams in the country.

“What I have seen coming off of the NCAA Tournament appearance is a higher level of confidence,” Mittie said. “With some teams you worry about them getting pats on the back and with this team I don’t see that. I see this team getting hungrier and I think they want more. I think the pieces are there to do more,”

One thing that will rise, along with the confidence level of K-State, is the caliber of opponents in the nonconference schedule. The schedule, which was announced on Tuesday, is highlighted by a return trip from the 11-time national champions, the UConn Huskies. The teams played last season with UConn winning the November matchup 97-57. Bringing in an opponent like UConn gives Mittie the hope that a big-name opponent will bring eyes to the program.

“I like to challenge our group,” Mittie said. “This is something I’ve done previously. I think it should be exciting for our region and I think it’s important for fans, recruits out there to know that we’re going to challenge ourselves in the nonconference. In some cases what I hope comes from this is, from a recruiting stand point, I hope we get some people into our building that hadn’t been in our building and see what 12,500 (people) in our building looks like.”

The Wildcats will have a new look on the floor in 2016-17 as they welcome five newcomers. The trio of new freshman include Mercedes Brooks from Wichita Falls, Texas; Peyton Williams of Topeka; and Eternati Willock from Canada. The other two additions on the roster include Lanie Page, the sister of K-State forward Kaylee Page, who redshirted as a freshman last year, and University of Alabama transfer Karyla Middlebrook. After spending two seasons on the Crimson Tide roster, Middlebrook is eligible right away. These additions, along with returners like seniors Breanna Lewis and Kindred Wesemann, give the Wildcats plenty of options as they try and play with a faster pace in 2016-17.

We’re always looking to tweak things and do things better,” Mittie said. “We averaged about 65 points a game, we need to be a better offensive team moving forward this year. I think Bre (Lewis) getting involved with our transition game and Bre being a more versatile player helps us but we’re still going stick to what we like to do – want to get touches for her in the post.

The Wildcats will open up the 2016-17 regular season against Chicago State on Nov. 11.