The 17th-ranked Western Nebraska Community College women’s basketball team will get the season underway on Saturday with just returners back from last year’s Region IX championship team.
WNCC opens the season at home on Nov. 2 when they play the Nebraska All-stars at 6 p.m. at Cougar Palace.
WNCC head coach Chad Gibney, who is entering his fourth season at the helm, said the team is looking forward to getting the season underway.
“We are ready to roll. We are excited to play some regular season games and get this going off on the right foot,” Gibney said.
The make-up of this year team is very similar to the past three teams with a handful of sophomores and plenty of talent among the newcomers. The Cougars have been practicing for the past month, undergoing four dates of scrimmages including a scrimmage with Metro State University on Saturday. Gibney said the scrimmages have been beneficial in molding the team together.
“We use the scrimmages as a time to work to get better to figure out players’ roles and to find ways that we can be most effective as a unit,” Gibney said. “In the pre-season it is not about wins and losses, it is about taking steps in the right direction. I think we did that.”
This season will be somewhat of a different team with the players, but like previous years, this team will be built around defense.
“We always pride ourselves with pressure defense and making teams uncomfortable on that side of the floor,” Gibney said. “We just want to find a way to score more points than the other team.”
WNCC has a roster of 13 players on the team this season with four returning from a 29-4 and Region IX championship season a year ago.
Returning for the Cougars include 5-3 Tishara Morehouse, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and 6-1 Taylor Joplin of Garden Plain, Kansas. Both Morehouse and Joplin competed in the NJCAA summer all-star contest.
Also returning are 6-1 Yuliyana Valcheva of Sofia, Bulgaria, and 5-7 R’Manie Pulling of Denver.
“All four have done an excellent job in helping lead our team in their own way,” Gibney said. “We are excited to see what kind of sophomore year they will have.”
To complement the four sophomores is a talented freshmen group.
The nine newcomers include plenty of height. Leading the list is 6-3 Lidsey Mahoukou of Limoges France. Another six footer is 6-1 Georgia Berry of Dubbo, New South Wales, Australia.
Two players stand close to six-foot. They include 5-11 Dalgenis Martinez of Villa Altagracia, Dominican Republic, and 5-10 Maddy Campbell of Caloundra, Queensland, Australia.
The rest of the newcomers are guard prospects led by local product Bethany Sterkel, a 5-7 guard from Mitchell. The other guards are 5-8 Zarrea Coleman and 5-7 Dakota Duplessis of Flossmoor, Illinois; 5-7 Dezmonea Antwine of Denver, and 5-7 Naiya Brown of The Colony, Texas.
“I think we have a handful of newcomers that have an opportunity to make a difference on our team this year,” Gibney said.
After Saturday, the Cougars hit the road for three road games at Sheridan College and then head to Hutchinson, Kansas, to face No. 9 Hutchinson, the team that eliminated the Cougars at the national tournament a year ago 81-60.
“When you are on the road, you have to be significant better than the team you are playing,” Gibney said. “So, we excited for that challenge. A lot of times on the road it comes down to toughness and the desire to win the basketball game. We will need to be ready.”
WNCC should be ready after the scrimmage with Metro State that saw the Cougars win the contest.
“We have made strides [over the pre-season games],” he said. “Our goal is just to make strides in the right direction each opportunity that we step on the floor. It is a slightly different group from last year and we are still working to see how we can be most effective in it.”