Young Lady Toppers face tough 2017-18 schedule

Tyler Mansfield

The WKU women’s basketball team has been doing a lot of preparing for a tough schedule as it gets ready to open its regular-season slate with a handful of games against strong opponents.

Head coach Michelle Clark-Heard said she talks about the schedule with the team at every practice.

“We tell the newcomers – and especially the freshmen – they’re in a very unique situation, and [we] try to put them in every possible position we can in practice, so they will understand and know that when we go to Iowa for the tournament and we step on the floor with a top-16 team in the country, we know what it’s gonna be like,” Clark-Heard said.

WKU opens play in the 2017 Hawkeye Challenge in Iowa City, hosted by Iowa, marking its first regular-season contest of the year against Missouri on Friday, Nov. 10 at 2:30 p.m. The team will meet either Iowa or Quinnipiac the following day.

After they return from Iowa City, the Lady Toppers will return to Bowling Green for a marquee matchup against consistent Final Four contender and national powerhouse Notre Dame on Tuesday, Nov. 14 inside Diddle Arena.

The Fighting Irish, members of the Atlantic Coast Conference, are coming off a 33-4 overall season that included a 15-1 mark in ACC play. Coach Muffet McGraw’s club won the regular-season ACC championship, the ACC Tournament championship and advanced all the way to Elite Eight before losing a 76-75 heartbreaker to Stanford in the 2016-2017 season.

Clark-Heard said she respects McGraw and her Notre Dame team for working with her and WKU to schedule this season’s meeting between the Lady Toppers and Fighting Irish.

“I am so grateful and thankful for Coach Muffet because there are a lot of teams that won’t come here and play us,” Clark-Heard said. “I set out every year to try to get the best here for our fans, our community and just for the game of women’s basketball. I hope on Nov. 14 that people really, really understand that this place should be packed. Notre Dame has been to five out of the last seven Final Fours and Muffet is a Hall of Fame coach.”

After tilts in the Hawkeye Challenge and against Notre Dame, meetings at Indiana (Nov. 17) and in the Georgia State Tournament (Nov. 24-26) highlight the Lady Toppers’ loaded nonconference slate.

The most significant storyline surrounding that half of WKU’s schedule is that Clark-Heard has an incredibly young team full of new faces. The new-look Lady Topper squad consists of seven total newcomers – five freshmen, a sophomore and a transfer.

With a roster full of new names not including names like Kendall Noble and Micah Jones, WKU’s two veterans Ivy Brown and Tashia Brown both know how challenged they will be early. The two also understand how beneficial playing tough opponents can be.

“I think it’s gonna be good for us,” Tashia Brown said. “It’s gonna prepare us for our conference and for everything else. Coach gave us a schedule to test who we are and to help us identify the types of things we need to work on early. It’s gonna be good for us.”

“To be the best, you have to play the best and beat the best,” Ivy Brown added. “You want to play as many of those teams as possible to show yourself what you’re made of.”

Prior to diving into those games, the Lady Toppers open their season with an exhibition against Union University (Tenn.) on Thursday. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. on John Oldham Court.

Reporter Tyler Mansfield can be reached at (270) 935-0007 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @_TylerMansfield.