Ada — After improving from 8-19 in 2011-12 to a 19-9 finish in 2012-13, the East Central University women’s basketball team is looking to continue to improve for the 2013-14 season. For their efforts a year ago, the Lady Tigers were picked to finish fourth this season in the Great American Conference preseason poll, as voted on by the league’s head coaches.
“We always want to improve,” said interim head coach Emily Holombek. “We won 19 games last year, so we want 20 this season. We want to advance to the finals of the conference tournament instead of the semifinals. If we can win 20 games and make the finals, we will be in contention to get a bid to nationals, and that is the ultimate goal.”
Bolstering the Lady Tigers' efforts to improve is the fact that they lost just three players from a season ago, return six and add three to the mix who sat out the 2012-13 season on redshirts. The returning group includes four starters from a year ago and two others who started in at least five games during the season. ECU will also add just four new faces to the roster for a total of 13 players.
“By keeping the roster size down, it helps us get more individual attention and reps in practice,” Holombek said. “It also makes it easier for team chemistry to happen.”
Two of the key returners at the post for the Lady Tigers are junior Dilan Webster and senior Ashley Robison, who both earned All-Great American Conference honors in 2012-13. Webster led ECU with 13.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game to earn All-GAC Second Team honors. Robison was named to the All-GAC Honorable Mention Team after averaging 8.7 points and 7.4 rebounds per outing.
The Lady Tigers also return senior forward Alycea Price, who tallied 8.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game in her first season with ECU.
Webster, Robison and Price will be joined by Ashleigh Kelman-Poto in the post. Kelman-Poto redshirted the 2012-13 season, but she was able to gain valuable experience in the Lady Tigers' system at practice all year.
“We have a solid post rotation this season with the addition of Ashleigh Kelman-Poto,” said Holombek. “She didn’t play last year but got to practice with us all season, so she should be able to jump right in and make a difference right off the bat.”
Also adding depth to the post position are freshman Kendal Rogers and redshirt freshman Jalyn Jackson. Rogers averaged 20 points and 11 rebounds at Davis High School, while Jackson transfers from Central Oklahoma, where she sat out the 2012-13 season.
The depth in the small roster extends to the guard position as well. The Lady Tigers return senior Alex Tucker and juniors Taylor Fischer and Erin Walling (an Ada High graduate), who all earned starts a year ago. Tucker started 22 of the 28 games of the season and contributed 5.0 points, 2.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Walling and Fischer played in all 28 games, with Walling starting in seven and Fischer five.
Walling added 7.8 points and boards per game, while Fischer netted 4.2 points and 2.3 rebounds per outing.
ECU will also add redshirt junior Janee Garza who, like Kelman-Poto, sat out last season but practiced with the team all year. The Lady Tigers also add three more guards to the rotation in freshman Alexa Adair, freshman Carley Collard (an Allen graduate) and senior Ashlyn Stafford.
“We have a lot of depth this season,” said Holombek. “That will help us to continue to play up-tempo. We are a solid two or three deep at each position. And that depth does not drop off because it is not a senior and a new freshman. It is strong experience.”
The large amount of experience and depth will be a big positive for the Lady Tigers this season and will give them a lot of options on the court.
“With this group, we have a lot of options,” said Holombek. “We have the ability to run any kind of lineup we need on the court, and that is one of our biggest strengths.”
Another big positive for the team is the schedule. Unlike last season, when ECU played most of its opening games on the road, the Lady Tigers will play the first five games in the friendly confines of the Kerr Activities Center.
“Last year five of our first six games were on the road, so this is a nice turnaround,” Holombek added. “We were fortunate to turn our schedule around from last year, and it may help us gain some momentum. We have played well at home the past few years, and I think being able to improve and encourage at home at the start of the season will help us get on a good roll for when we do get on the road.”
The Lady Tigers will open the 2013-14 season Nov. 9 against Southwest Christian at 7 p.m. ECU will continue the home stand with games against St. Gregory’s (Nov. 12) and Rogers State (Nov. 16).
The final two games of the home stand will be an even earlier start to the GAC season, Nov. 21 and 23. The Lady Tigers will host Ouachita Baptist (Nov. 21) and Henderson State (Nov. 23) before playing their first road contest Nov. 25 at St. Gregory’s.
The final two non-conference games of the season will be Dec. 14 at Midwestern State and the lone home game in December against Mid-American Christian (Dec. 17).
There will be a slight change to the NCAA rules that fans will notice in 2013-14. The NCAA rules committee decided to add the 10-second back court rule, so teams will have 10 seconds to get across the time line, just like the men.
“Everyone is going to use the 10-second rule and try to press more this season,” said Holombek. “I think it will create more turnovers and extend defenses, but we play up-tempo, so that doesn’t change anything for us on offense.”