Lady Toppers still in ‘learning stage’

Brad Stephens

Preseason practices are for learning and teaching,

and Head Coach Mary Taylor Cowles said her Lady Toppers have

experienced plenty of both.

Cowles said a roster filled with both youth (seven

freshmen) and veteran leadership (five seniors), is still in the

process of getting familiar with team concepts.

“We’re not where we want to be, thank goodness,”

Cowles said on Wednesday at WKU’s basketball media day. “We don’t

want to be there in November.

“It’s not one thing specifically offensively or

defensively. We’re in a learning stage and we’re going to be there

for awhile.”

Somewhat speeding the learning curve for the Lady

Toppers have been NCAA guidelines that allow women’s teams to hold

official practices 40 days before the start of the regular


Cowles said those new rules, along with a “smart”

group of freshmen, have smoothed preparations for the season.

“The freshmen are smart enough to realize that hey,

we’ve got an opportunity to play here,” Cowles said. “That’s been a

real motivating factor for them because they know they can see

themselves on the floor.”

One of those freshmen, guard Ileana Johnson, said

both the team’s five seniors and its three-player sophomore class

have helped the newcomers every step of the way.

“The sophomores have been great. They’re kind of like

the sisters,” Johnson said. “They’ve been there a year ago so they

know how we’re feeling.

“And the seniors are like our moms. They’re watching

out for us, encouraging us, teaching us along the way.”

The Lady Toppers go into this season picked to finish

third in the Sun Belt Conference East Division behind Middle

Tennessee State and Florida International.

But last year WKU showed preseason predictions aren’t

an exact science, as the Lady Toppers were a first place preseason

pick in 2010-11 but ended the regular season third in the East.

Senior forward LaTeira Owens said she doesn’t mind

not being the league favorite this season.

“It’s good to be the underdogs because any night we

can come out and show them that we should’ve been picked No. 1,”

Owens said.

The Lady Toppers have the chance display all they’ve

learned at 2 p.m. Sunday in Diddle Arena when WKU takes on Kentucky

Wesleyan in its first exhibition of the season.

KWC returns 10 lettermen from a 2010-11 squad that

made the first Division II tournament appearance in school


The Panthers’ top returning starter is senior center

Katie Behrens, a Florence native and former Boone County High

School standout.

Behrens notched a team-high 10.9 points per game last

season, also pulling down 4.5 rebounds and dishing 1.9 assists per


Cowles said she views Sunday’s exhibition as an

opportunity to see how her team is progressing before the regular


“It’s an opportunity for us to play someone different

than ourselves every day in practice,” Cowles said. “That helps to

get a true measure of where we are.”