The Kansas State women’s basketball team will have to replace one of its most consistent scorers from this past season and improve its guard play if the Wildcats hope to reach their team goal of making the NCAA Tournament.
“[A successful season would include] the NCAA Tournament. That’s the goal every year, and that’s going to be the goal, that’s going to be the standard of program,” head coach Jeff Mittie said.
The Wildcats have not made the NCAA Tournament since 2019, but Mittie is looking forward to newfound balance and depth on his team.
“I like our team in terms of balance,” Mittie said. “We’ve got a lot of options I think at the [guard] spot. When you look at [Emilee] Ebert, you look at the progress in [Cymone] Goodrich and the addition of the Glenn twins, and you look at Serena Sundell. I think there are a lot of options.”
Mittie also pointed out sophomore guard Jada Moore as a potential replacement at the point guard position for the Wildcats’ two departing guards from this past year.
“She had a tremendous scrimmage yesterday. She had 20 points,” Mittie said. “Her defense is much better. I think she’s going to make a big impact.”
Despite the depth at the guard positions, K-State’s offense will still revolve around junior center Ayoka Lee. The 6 foot 6 inch Minnesota native was an All-Big 12 First-Team performer in her first two seasons and has already amassed nearly 1,000 points.
“She just needs to continue to get better,” Mittie said of his star center. “She’s been a great end of offense player — the only player in the NCAA to shoot over 60 percent from the field and over 80 percent from the free-throw line. She needs to continue to improve her physicality.”
K-State ran into issues this past season when Lee was forced into foul trouble or other teams double and triple-teamed her.
“People are going to bring extra help, they’re employing different strategies to frustrate her,” Mittie said. “They’re going to be extra physical. They’re going to make officials call things, so she has to keep her poise in that. Last year foul trouble was an issue, she got frustrated with some of those things, so she needs to take that growth.”
Mittie calls it a sign of respect that opponents try so hard to take her out of the game through foul trouble. When she is out of the game, K-State will turn to 6 foot 7 inch sophomore Taylor Lauterbach at the five spot.
Lauterbach played just over nine minutes per game this past season and averaged 1.9 points per game.
“She’s a much better player than she was a year ago,” Mittie said. “She needs to be more physical, needs to be stronger in the paint. … I expect her to be able to come in for Lee and not have as big of a drop of as we had her freshman year.”
The Wildcats’ schedule allows them an opportunity to measure themselves against a hectic early schedule and some solid opponents in the non-conference. They start the year hosting the Preseason WNIT.
“We get going very quickly with the preseason WNIT, so you’ve got a lot of games,” Mittie said. “You’ll have a lot of knowledge of different styles and how your team reacts to that, how quickly you can prepare and turn around for the next game. We’ll get basketball IQ, commitment — all those things.”
The Wildcats also have a couple of tough road tests. They’ll head to South Carolina and NC State, who were No. 1 seeds this past season, and visit Oregon, who played in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
“We’ve got some tremendous road challenges. When you look at NC State, who was a 1-seed last year, when you look at South Carolina, those two right off the bat,” Mittie said. “South Dakota State has a great home environment as well. We’ll get challenged, and there’ll be a ton of adversity pre-Christmas for this team.”
K-State kicks off the season in an exhibition against Washburn at 1 p.m. on Oct. 31 at Bramlage Coliseum.