Coach Laci Tompkins has high hopes for her basketball team at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma as the season opener nears.

“It’s a transition for all of us, so we’re learning each other, and we’re learning our system,” she said. “Right now, it will be us that holds ourselves back. I think the sky is the limit if we can work together.”

Led by Tompkins, the Drover women are headed to Bethany to take on their first two opponents in the Southern Nazarene University Classic. They face up against Dallas Christian University at 4 p.m. Friday and then play Ecclesia University the following day at noon.

The team has been practicing daily, spending at least 15 hours a week to improve their game. Tompkins said the most difficult part is getting the players to learn her new system, which requires reading the defense and being ready for anything.

"We really try to teach you to learn the game. It not me telling them to stand in spots,” Tompkins said. “I just have a high standard for these girls."

One of Tompkins rules is to “go hard,” whether it’s on the court or back onto the bench.

The team lost two of last year’s starters. Coaches identified Courtney Brox, Danielle Cota and Elisa Ogawa as three key newcomers this season.

Tompkins returns to her alma mater from Redlands Community College in El Reno, where she led her team to the national tournament in 2003. She’s an USAO graduate and played basketball and softball for the Drovers. After graduation, she stayed on as an assistant basketball coach and head softball coach for three years before moving on.

She said the team is ready to get its season started and to continue to grow in the coming years.

“(We’re) as ready as anybody is this time of year. ... Sometimes, you just need to go play,” she said. “I hope we grow into something the university can be proud of.”

The Drover women won’t play at home until Nov. 24, but the men begin their season with a home opener on Nov. 9.

As per usual, USAO will kick off the basketball season for both men’s and women’s teams during the annual Drover Madness pep-rally. The event will begin at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. Jake’s Rib will cater free food for attendees.

Shirts-N-Stuff, the USAO Student Association and Jake’s Rib are sponsoring the event, which will feature crowd interaction and a pick-up game. Kool 105.5 fm personality George Plummer will emcee the pep-rally. The station is also a co-sponsor.

“I think it’s the joy of the journey every year. Just the joy of being with a great group of people everyday,” Tompkins said. “I really enjoy these girls. I'm really proud of them.”