Women’s basketball Lions look to quick non-conference start

Hobie Brown

Exhibition play begins for the Missouri Southern women’s basketball squad at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center and head coach Maryann Mitts is optimistic about the upcoming season.

“St. Louis Goldstar is a traveling team of former college basketball players,” Mitts said. “They have interest to play after their college eligibility is over. They are a very hard nosed group, with discipline play.”

Mitts is confident about the upcoming season, which has the Lions ranked fifth in the preseason poll.

Southern finished last season 16-12.

“It’s about as high as I thought we’d be ranked,” she said. “I am very pleased. I think we have gradually earned the respect of the coaches in the league, which I think is a hard thing to do.”

The Lions have their sights set on many achievements, including a magic number of 20.

“To get through non-conference schedule with one or two losses, we have to get off to a great start,” Mitts said. “Getting through the non-conference schedule with one or two losses can allow you to get 20 wins. 20 wins gets you into the MIAA Tournament; 20 wins gets you a national qualifying spot, 20 wins gets you into the top 8 regionally. 20 wins is the goal, but you have to get half of them in the non-conference play.”

Another goal is to protect the home court.

“We want to win all of our games at home,” Mitts said. “If we can do that, we are being very successful. When you win your home games, you can go get some upsets on the road, and when you do that, you end up in the top four in the league, which could mean a qualifier in the NCAA tournament, which is our ultimate goal.”

To make those goals possible, Mitts looks to employ the services of her team.

“Robin Kantin is an all-MIAA performer from a year ago,” she said. “I enjoy coaching Robin and watching her play. She plays the game the way it’s meant to be played. She comes in every day with an incredible work ethic; she plays the game hard. We asked her to improve her three-point game in the off-season and she has done that.

“Dana-Mae Robbs is another player that has improved in the off-season. She has improved her strength and is working on finishing.

“Karina Kuczynski is a redshirt freshman that was brought in to play the two position, but has been asked to play the point. It’s not a comfortable role for Karina, but it’s something she’ll work on to improve. Danielle DeVader has had three ACL knee repairs in the last three years. She refuses to have any excuses. I just admire her.”

Joining the returning players are three college transfers and one freshman.

“Randi Henderson is one we were planning on redshirting her this year, but with the injury to Allen, we didn’t have that option,” Mitts said. “We hope she matures faster than most freshman are asked to, because we are going to be needing her to play a lot of minutes. She’s coming off a knee surgery.

“Ela Zawadka was brought in as a three-point specialist on the perimeter. She knows the game very well. Her father coaches the men’s national team in Poland. She is very versatile.

“Ashley Birch has ability to put ball on the floor and be a slasher. Tynesha Pierce is a 6-foot junior post player. She has a solid post game, and a lot of talent. She has the potential to be one of the best post players in the league.”

With the addition of Fort Hays State University to the MIAA, Mitts believes the Tigers will help the overall quality of the conference.

“I think it edifies the strength of the league,” she said. “They had 20 wins last year and are very well coached. Their addition to the league makes the entire league stronger.

The Lions had a tough matchup against the University of Arkansas last week, losing 78-48.

Out of the game came several positives for the Lions.

“We were very successful when we executed the offense,” Mitts said. “We were getting open shots. I thought that we had key performances from Devader and Robbs, which were very positive. Kuczynski had to handle the point for us, and she did well. When we forced Arkansas to play in a half-court game, we forced them to take outside shots, and when they missed them, it limited them to one shot. When that happened, we looked like a very good basketball team.”

There were a couple of issues which Mitts looks to improve upon.

“Two weaknesses that stood out was our inability to take care of the ball and we allowed too many second shots,” she said. “Getting to the free throw line is apart of our offensive scheme. I think that we got in there and knocked them down.”

Mitts also hopes to stay on top of the race to the basket.

“I think what distinguishes between a good team and an average team early on is who wins the lay-up battle,” she said. “If we finish those lay-ups on the offensive end, and we eliminate the number of lay-ups the opponents get, we will look like a very good basketball team if we win the battle.”