By Michael Freeman, Assistant Sports Editor
Ten players are returning this season to the ACUwomen’s basketball team- a team picked to finish second in the Lone Star Conference South Division. And with the return of so many experienced players and the addition of four talented freshmen, head coach Shawna Lavender is excited about the Wildcats’ chances of being a serious contender in the post-season.
“I think we have a legitimate shot to challenge for the conference championship,” Lavender said. “Now whether or not we do that is all going to depend on keeping our minds right and keeping our team chemistry where it needs to be.”
Last year, ACU went 17-12 overall with an 8-6 conference record. The Wildcats’ season ended after being ousted 76-57 in the first round of the Lone Star Conference Post-Season Tournament by Central Oklahoma.
“It left a bad taste in our mouths,” said junior center Audrey Maxwell. “We knew we could’ve been better. I really want to take advantage of this season and make something happen.”
Maxwell and senior forward Alex Guiton were named to the first team all-LSC South Division last season.
Both players will be starting for ACU this season. In the Wildcats’ exhibition game against Lubbock Christian Saturday, junior forward Kristee Davidson, sophomore guard Kelsey Darby and sophomore forward Jody Meyer also started for ACU. But this season’s team is so talented that the Wildcats’ starting
lineup may not be set in stone.
“This is probably one of the deepest teams we’ve had in a long time,” Lavender said. “And the girls know that; they know that every day they have to fight to keep their starting jobs. It makes our practices very competitive, which is great because that makes more prepared for the game.”
ACU has 27 games on its schedule this year with the first game coming Friday against Incarnate Word. The schedule also includes games against competitive squads like nationally ranked No. 4 West Texas A&M. Texas A&M-Commerce, a team ACU beat last season, is also on the schedule this year. But Texas A&M-Commerce went on a streak through the regional tournament to the Division II Elite Eight last postseason and is entering this season ranked No. 12 in the nation.
“I think our schedule this year is probably a little bit tougher last year,” Lavender said. “Every game we’re playing is a regional game this year.”
In addition to 14 conference matches, ACU will play regional opponents such as Incarnate Word, St. Edward’s, East Central and the team that kicked the Wildcats out of the playoffs- Central Oklahoma.
ACU will combat opponents this year with a fierce foursome of centers. Maxwell, who averaged 13.5 points and 10.1 rebounds last season, will lead the Wildcats’ interior game play. Sophomore backup Jody Meyer will skillfully be able to play both the center position and forward position. And freshmen Jamie Miller and Jenna Simmel can provide an energetic boost coming off the bench.
“Definitely having a strong presence inside is huge,” Lavender said. “For us to have two strong centers is really important.”
In the forward spot, Guiton, who led the team last year in scoring with 15.1 points per game, will be a key player for the Wildcats. Senior Ashlee Barr, Davidson and sophomore Jamie Meyer will all be able to bring a balanced attack of both offense
and defense when they take the court.
“They are really versatile,” Lavender said. “They can shoot from the outside and be able to post up down low.”
Consistent shooting and passing will come from a group of ACU guards composed of sophomore Kelsey Darby, junior Cici Davis, freshman, Joanna Harner, freshman Jensen Knickerbocker, sophomore Kathryn Kundmueller and freshman Autumn Whitaker.
“We have a pretty balanced team,” Lavender said. “We have a lot of kids that can step up and hit some big shots for us.”
With its talented ensemble, the Wildcats appear poised to put together a stellar season this year.
“I think we’re a better team this year than we were last year,” Lavender said. “And that’s how I expect us to play.”