Clark-Heard excited for new season, challenges

Lady Topper junior guard Ima Akpan (20), dribbles past sophomore forward Tashia Brown (10) during a scrimmage game in Diddle Arena. Alyssa Pointer/HERALD

Evan Heichelbech

A roster with eight new faces and only two returning starters will make matching last season’s success difficult for the WKU Lady Topper basketball team.

There will be new challenges, but there will also be some recurring ones that Head Coach Michelle Clark-Heard and her staff have already tackled in seasons past.

“We graduated a lot as far as points and rebounds,” Clark-Heard said. “I think the biggest thing that we have talked about as a team is our consistency.”

Clark-Heard knows that in a season where both new and returning players must heighten their scoring and rebounding output, consistency will be the key to success.

“We want to continue to be consistent in the conference and be one of the top teams in the conference,” Clark-Heard said. “I think the ultimate goal is the same thing as far as for us to try and win championships and get to the NCAA Tournament.”

The Lady Toppers have another tough nonconference slate ahead of them, and Clark-Heard is confident that her squad can fare well in that stretch as they have before.

“If you’ve followed us over the last three years, you know that we’ve been very successful in our nonconference play, and that’s still our goal this year,” Clark-Heard said.

But nonconference play and consistency weren’t the only things Clark-Heard highlighted.

“We want to go on the road and be able to win. That’s one thing that I’m proud of about this team: We’ve been able to go on the road, play teams on their home floor and win,” Clark-Heard said. “At the end of the day, I think that’s what makes great teams.”

One of the nonconference teams on the schedule is Ball State, who will come to Diddle Arena on Nov. 21 and has the No. 1 recruiting class in the country coming into this season.

Ball State, whom the Lady Tops open their season against on the road, will be the first opportunity for Clark-Heard’s squad to notch a quality victory.

Ball State senior forward Nathalie Fontaine was named the 2015 Mid-American Conference Preseason Player of the Year..

“We will be tested in our first game on the road at Ball State,” Clark-Heard said. “They have a great coach, and it’s a hard place to play. We’ll have to compete day in and day out, and the biggest goal is to get our players to follow our game plan.”

The nonconference schedule is a challenge; the C-USA schedule is no cakewalk either. Seven teams won double-digit conference games last year, and the league will remain high quality this season.

“I think going into the second year, it’s definitely going to be a challenge because this is a whole new look for our team, but at the end of the day, I think our team is ready for the challenge,” Clark-Heard said. “We’ll continue to keep working in order to get to that point.”

All challenges and worries aside, Clark-Heard is confident that she can get this team to where it needs to be by the season’s end. The large turnover on the roster and the demanding schedule don’t bother the 2014 C-USA Coach of the Year.

It’s the constant pressure she puts on herself and her team to overachieve and be successful that makes her job hard.

“I told the freshmen that they really aren’t going to have a chance to be freshmen because we’re going to have to find players to step up right now to be able to help us at the beginning of the season,” Clark-Heard said. “At the end of the day, my job is to get those 13 young ladies in that locker room prepared and ready to go.”

Clark-Heard is looking most forward to just getting out and competing.

“We’re just looking forward to the competition and being able to have opportunities every day to get better and get to where we need to come March,” Clark-Heard said.