Lady Toppers not sneaking up on anyone this year

Junior forward Chastity Gooch pulls up for a jump shot during Hilltopper Hysteria Saturday, Oct. 19. 

Kyle Williams

Following a 22-11 season and a berth in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament, the WKU Lady Topper basketball team enters its season with many lofty expectations.

Coach Michelle Clark-Heard said that the promising upcoming season should put the Lady Toppers, who were picked to finish second in the Sun Belt Conference by league coaches, in prime position to improve.

“Expectations will come, and that’s what it’s about,” Heard said. “As a student-athlete and as a coach, that’s what you want. You want to have the expectations of wanting to put ourselves in a position where we can get better.”

WKU returns all five starters from last year’s team, which recorded the largest single-season improvement in Sun Belt history after winning 13 more games in 2012 than in 2011.

However, senior guard Bianca McGee said the Lady Toppers can’t dwell on the past, but rather work toward replicating it.

“What we did last year is last year,” McGee said. “We have to come this year and be ready to play. Of course people are going to look at us a little bit differently this year…but we can’t focus on what we did last year. We have to do it this year.”

Although WKU has familiar faces returning this season, the Lady Toppers welcomed six newcomers to the team that should fill voids on both ends of the court.

Freshman center Ruta Savickaite, who stands 6 foot 4 inches tall, and freshman forward Bria Gaines, who is 6 foot 3 inches tall, will bring much-needed size to the post for the Lady Toppers. Junior forward Chastity Gooch was the tallest Lady Topper last season at just six foot.

Junior guard Alexis Govan said the added depth should do wonders for the Lady Toppers in terms of balanced playing time.

“It does a lot for us,” Govan said. “It gives people a chance now to really be efficient when they’re on the court and go as hard as they can go because they know there’s going to be someone coming in and doing the same thing.”

Govan, Gooch and McGee were all honored as some of the top players in the Sun Belt by the league’s coaches. Govan was selected as the Sun Belt Conference Preseason Player of the Year and a first-team All-Conference selection, while Gooch and McGee received first- and third-team selections, respectively.

Govan, who averaged 20.3 points per game last season and will be the returning leading scorer in the Sun Belt this season, was also chosen by the team as a captain alongside senior guard Chaney Means.

Means said the team is anxious for the start of the season and they want to build on what they accomplished last year.

“We have a great group of girls,” Means said. “We’re just really looking forward to this year.

“We had a great first year under coach Heard. We’re just looking to build from that. It’s my senior year and the last year in the Sun Belt, so I’m just really looking forward to it.”

The Lady Toppers open up the regular season on Nov. 9 against Austin Peay in Diddle Arena at 2 p.m.