Women’s Notes: Team chemistry paying big dividends for Lady Toppers

Women's Notes: Team chemistry paying big dividends for Lady Toppers

Cole Claybourn

At Wednesday’s basketball media day, Head Coach Mary Taylor Cowles said her players are a little more at ease going in to their first exhibition game on Nov. 2 against Lindsey Wilson than they have been in year’s past.

That’s because a new NCAA rule allows women’s teams to start practice 40 days before their first official game. For the Lady Toppers, that was Oct. 7.

She said she doesn’t know how good the team is yet, but that the early practices will show their benefits as the season progresses.

Team chemistry paying big dividends

Cowles said one major difference between this year’s team and last year’s is that with eight upperclassmen, camaraderie is off the charts. She said the players make a point to bond as a team off the court at least a couple times a week.

Senior forward Arnika Brown said the players were tired of getting beat by the same schools each year and felt like the team chemistry needed improvement.

Junior forward Jasmine Johnson said the difference she sees is that the players want to get together off the basketball court.

“Last year, I think we felt like we were demanded to do certain things, and if we didn’t we’d have to run,” she said. “So this year we were just thought, ‘why not do some fun stuff like playing Taboo, or going to the movies, or to the park.’ Ever since the summer it’s just clicked and we have fun.”

Brown not hampered by injury

Brown was sidelined for most of the Lady Toppers’ preseason practices, including Hilltopper Hysteria, with a hamstring injury.

But Brown and Coach Mary Taylor Cowles have confirmed that the injury is no longer an issue and Brown has been practicing since Monday.

Brown said her hamstring feels “great” and is ready to start the season.

Cowles, players not getting overwhelmed by tough schedule

With five non-conference games agains BCS opponents, the Lady Toppers are looking at a schedule that is tougher on paper than last season’s.

But Cowles said the players won’t be intimidated by the bigger opponents.

“We’re just going to take it one game at a time,” she said. “No one game on our schedule is more important than another. I think it’s extremely important that we can’t look ahead to when we play this team or that team.

“We’re not going to prepare for Duke any differently than we’d prepare for Louisiana Tech or Middle Tennessee.”

The Lady Toppers didn’t win a game against any of the four BCS teams on their schedule last season, something senior guard Amy McNear said can’t happen this season.

She said winning games against the bigger opponents during non-conference play are crucial for the team’s confidence heading in to the Sun Belt season.

“Our coaches set up those games on our schedule to get us exposure and to help us out in the long run,” she said. “With our team right now, we can compete with any team in the NCAA because we have that confidence and motivation to know that we’re a good team.”

Lady Toppers looking to end post-season drought

The Lady Toppers last made the NCAA tournament in 2008 — eventually losing to UTEP in the first round — and Cowles said she’s ready to go back.

Their postseason woes continued last year with a first-round loss to Illinois in the National Invitational Tournament.

Cowles said a “team cohesiveness” will be the main ingredient to getting back to the NCAA tournament and having success.

“That, and leadership, have probably been missing,” she said. “That really came together when last season ended. We have a strong group of ladies who realize how important it is to be together on and off the court.

“This group of young ladies was mature enough back in the spring to realize that hadn’t been there. They just made the decision that they were going to make it happen.”