CHICKASHA – Steadily improving and keeping grades high will be the focuses of the 2012-13 women’s basketball team as they continue to transition with new Head Coach Jennifer Hayden.
“Certainly a goal for me coming in is to bring the team up and make it to the conference tournament,” Hayden said. “We always set an academic goal as well. We want to achieve a higher than 3.3 GPA.”
The team will be coming up with more specific goals before their first basketball game, which is scheduled for the Southwestern Christian Classic on Nov. 2-3. They take on Southwestern Assemblies of God at 5 p.m. Friday and Friends University at 3 p.m. Saturday.
The Drovers competed in two scrimmages in October, facing Seminole State and Redlands Community College.
“After our first scrimmage, we saw some good things and some things we need to work on,” Hayden said. “We’ve put in a lot of new things since then and a lot of improvement since then.”
Not only will the players be transitioning to a new coaching philosophy, they will be learning to play together seeing as 12 of the players are new to the university this year.
While there are only four returning players from the 2011-12 squad, three were starters. Additionally, there are a total of seven seniors on the team.
Returning for another season is last year’s leading scorer Paige Pulliam, a junior from Newcastle. Pulliam led the team in points with 381, field goals with 119, three-pointers with 50, free throws with 93 and assists with 63.
Also returning is four-year starter Tashina Ototivo. She led last year’s team in rebounds with 203 and in minutes played with 872. She was also second in field goal percentage. Ototivo was the only player on the team to be named All-Conference.
Lauren Campo is another senior who started in nearly every game last year. She scored 122 points, collected 88 rebounds and had 42. Marissa Medrano is USAO’s final returning player. The 6-foot-3 senior brought height and inside presence to the Drovers last season.
“All of the returners are going to pay key roles for us,” Hayden said. “The returners we have here have done very well and have been open to learning a new system. Everyone has meshed pretty well together.”
Hayden had a lot of positive comments about her newcomers as well, including Celeste Smith, who is battling an injury, and Rocio Medrano. Both players spent second semester of 2011-12 at USAO, but not yet cleared to play.
“Rocio Medrano is going to come in and will be a key defender for us and an offensive presence,” Hayden said.
She also mentioned Krista Ford, who followed her to USAO from Sul Ross State; Patricia Inacio, a junior transfer from New Mexico Junior College; Ndeye Ngom, a junior from Redlands Community College; and Brittany Scott, a senior guard from Southern Arkansas University.
“Ndeye’s a quiet player but she does a lot of good things … and she finds a way to get to the basket,” Hayden said. “Brittany Scott has had some solid experience playing point guard … she’s coming in with a lot of experience right now. Right now, she’s being a little more of a vocal leader for us.”
The Drovers, who have struggled the last few seasons, were picked to finish last in the conference, but that isn’t a concern for Hayden and her crew.
“I’m not upset about that. I love going in being the underdog,” she said. “I think talent level is certainly higher than what people expect us to have.”
As is the case traditionally, three Sooner Athletic Conference schools sit in the NAIA Top 10. Lubbock Christian tops the poll, while Rogers State comes in eighth and Oklahoma City follows at No. 10.
“That just shows how hard our conference is. There are no easy games in our conference. No easy nights,” Hayden said. “I’m excited about it. I’m pretty optimistic about it. I think we are going to surprise a lot of the people, and I think we are going to overlooked.”