COLUMN: Similar tests ahead for men’s, women’s squads

Jonah Phillips

Jonah Phillips

While some of you may be experiencing the bye-week blues in the wake of WKU’s impending bye week this weekend, think of it more as an exciting time to see what the Hilltopper and Lady Topper basketball teams will look like this season. 

Both the men’s and women’s teams are shaping up to have interesting seasons.

Head Coach Michelle Clark-Heard and the women’s basketball program return just five players from the 2014-2015 season and welcome eight new faces to follow up their Conference USA regular season title and tournament championship-winning season.

That’s not to say the Lady Toppers have no proven quality on their squad.  They return C-USA Defensive Player of the Year in redshirt junior guard Kendall Noble.

Noble, along with senior guard Micah Jones, will vocally anchor the team, which will need to integrate new and old athletes quickly to sustain success.

Without question, the largest test for the Lady Toppers this season will be replacing the vocal and statistical outputs of Alexis Govan and Chastity Gooch. The two players graduated last year after maintaining two of the most illustrious careers ever seen on the Hill.

When Gooch and Govan departed, Clark-Heard lost about half of her total offensive point production from last season.

However, Noble, Jones, senior forward Jalynn McClain and returning sophomores Tashia Brown and Ivy Brown look poised to mature in their roles. This season, the Lady Toppers will expect the newcomers to contribute in a bigger way than what they might have expected last season.

On the men’s side, Head Coach Ray Harper is facing a challenge similar to Clark-Heard’s: the graduation of key components from last year’s team. The departure of T.J. Price, George Fant and Trency Jackson took a sizable portion of both offensive and defensive possibilities with them.

While Price and Fant’s departures will mostly be felt statistically, Jackson’s departure leaves the team without a tested vocal leader from last season. 

Redshirt junior guard Chris Harrison-Docks will be a familiar leader on the team this season while players like sophomore forward Justin Johnson and redshirt senior forward Nigel Snipes will look to grow into leaders for the rapidly changing team.

With 10 new faces on the roster, some of the newcomers will certainly step up as leaders. Some already have.

In contests against Lindsey Wilson College and Kentucky Wesleyan College, two transfers have made their presence felt on the court: redshirt senior guard Aaron Cosby and junior guard Fredrick Edmond.

Clark-Heard has obviously succeeded since becoming head coach, and Todd Stewart, the director of Athletics, will rest easy knowing the transitioning women’s basketball program is in her hands.

However, the men’s side is looking to avoid slipping into midtable obscurity this season. It experienced a hot-and-cold season last year and possesses no established leader or focal point this time around.  

Harper will look to bounce back from last year’s season, which left Hilltopper fans wanting.