WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Practice begins, team fired up under new coach

J. Michael Moore

After three days of official practice, Mary Taylor Cowles is stressing the basics to the Lady Topper basketball team.

Intensity is there – it’s the rust around the edges the first-year coach wants to chip away.

“Effort-wise and intensity, I’ve been very pleased with them,” Cowles said. “We still have so much we have to work on, but that will come with time.”

Cowles said the Lady Toppers will continue their maturation process even after the season tips off Nov. 23 against Louisiana Tech.

Fundamentals may prove to be the key in such an early match-up with a highly ranked opponent. The Lady Techsters have been ranked No. 20 by the Women’s Basketball News Service and No. 21 in Basketball News preseason polls.

“We can’t out-rebound Louisiana Tech,” Cowles said. “So, every day we have to work on the basics of blocking out.”

The team begins every practice in fundamental stations, with players rotating every five minutes.

Returning players have also noticed a different mental edge in the early days of practice and a more heightened sense of dedication than a year ago under embattled former head coach Shawn Campbell, who is now an assistant at Kent State.

“It’s a game plan,” senior forward Shala Reese said. “We know going into the season what is expected of us. And if you don’t do it, you don’t play.”

Many of the Lady Toppers have been playing with bumps and bruises, including senior center Tiffiany Diggins, who is returning from off-season surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her right leg.

She and sophomore guard Sara Riedeman said playing with some pain can benefit the team this early, because it can help build a mental toughness.

“We all need to go out on the court mentally,” Diggins said. “We all have to be mentally prepared.”

Whitaker update

Camryn Whitaker underwent surgery for her torn anterior cruciate ligament several weeks ago and is progressing well.

Whitaker said she is feeling fine.

The junior guard can be seen at practice, staying active in motivating and teaching younger Lady Topper players.

Cowles said Whitaker could be off crutches in about two weeks. She will continue her involvement with the team’s activities, including practices and road trips.

“Camryn is going to be on my left side for every game this season,” Cowles said.

Reach J.Michael Moore at [email protected]