Lady Tops enter year as team to beat

Sam Porter

As the Michelle Clark-Heard era enters its fifth year, the expectations couldn’t be higher for the Lady Toppers as the team hosted its annual preseason media day on Tuesday.

Clark-Heard will look to lead the Lady Tops to their third conference championship and third trip to the NCAA tournament in just five seasons.

She will also look to add a large number to her already impressive 103 wins (25.75 wins a season) as the head coach of the Lady Tops.

After a successful 24-5 (15-3 Conference-USA) regular season in 2015-16, the Lady Tops had high hopes of winning the C-USA tournament and appearing in the NCAA tournament for the third time in four years.

However, a heartbreaking 66-63 loss to Marshall University in the Lady Tops’ opening game ended those hopes.

The Lady Tops received a bid to the WNIT and ended the season 27-7(15-3), ending the 2016-17 campaign with a 68-54 loss to North Dakota State in the WNIT quarterfinals.

After the 27-win season, the Lady Tops enter the 2016-17 season as the favorites to win C-USA and get back to the NCAA tournament.

“You always want to be in the conversation to win a championship,” Clark-Heard said. “From the day I stepped foot on campus I said I wanted to have a chance to be in the same conversation as all the big programs. Nobody puts more pressure on themselves than me.”

“We’re going to make sure every single day that we’re competing and doing the thing we need to do and the results will take care of themselves,” Clark-Heard continued. “At the end of the day, this is where you want your program. You want people talking about you and wanting them to say that you’re the team to beat.”

Depth and experience are key factors of why WKU was picked as the pre-season favorite to win C-USA.

After sitting out last season due to transfer rules, redshirt junior Kyvin Goodin-Rogers and redshirt sophomore Jaycee Coe will finally be eligible after transferring from the University of Kentucky.

The Lady Tops also return several key players from last season such as redshirt senior guard Kendall Noble, redshirt senior Micah Jones, and junior forwards Ivy and Tashia Brown.

Jones returns for a fifth year after tearing her ACL very early last season, giving her a medical redshirt allowing her to come back for one final season.

“Her leadership and experience are second to none,” Clark-Heard said. “It’s been tough on Micah because she had a previous ACL tear in high school. [She] and I have had a lot of conversations about understanding her body at this time in her career. She’s been awesome because she leads the team and can do so many different things. The more she’s out there, the more confidence I have that she’s still getting better.”

Last season, the Lady Tops’ most impressive victory was a 71-69 win over then 16th ranked University of Louisville.

This season, the Lady Tops’ non-conference schedule includes a home game against Indiana, a trip to Florida for the Gulf Coast Showcase that begins with a game against DePaul, and a trip to Louisville where the Lady Cards will look for revenge against the Lady Tops after last year’s showdown.

The players hope that an impressive showing in the non-conference will take the pressure off of winning the C-USA tournament to receive a bid to the NCAA tournament.

“Those game are going to be really big for us,” Noble said about the non-conference schedule. “It’s going to give us a chance to prove ourselves and give us an opportunity to get an at-large bid so there’s not so much pressure going into the conference tournament like last year.”

The Lady Tops begin their 2016-17 season with a scrimmage against Young Harris College on Thursday, Nov. 3, in Diddle Arena. The regular season kicks off in Diddle Arena with a matchup against Alabama A&M who won just five games a year ago.

Reporter Sam Porter can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @SammyP14.