CHICKASHA – Head Coach Jennifer Hayden is expecting big things out of her young team in her second season with the Drover women’s basketball team.
“We are looking forward to a good season. We have four returning seniors and several new faces,” Hayden said. “We want to be competitive and put ourselves in a position to win games.”
The Drovers are returning just one starting player from last year who will see time on the court. Senior Ndeye “Tata” Ngom sustained a knee injury before in preseason and will not be able to play.
Seeing 13 starts last year and 49 in the last three years, USAO’s only four-year senior Paige Pulliam scored 211 points during her junior year and was second on the team in assists and steals. Pulliam is overcoming an injury but should be able to suit up soon.
“Paige is a very smart player,” Hayden said. “She makes good reads both offensively and defensively, and she has proven to be a consistent player every night. She should also give us a big offensive presence this year.”
Also returning are Rashelle Carr and Amber Chaney, who each saw significant time in the 2013-14 season.
“We will be looking to our seniors to provide leadership for the team,” Hayden said. “Rashelle is one of our top defenders and will be looked upon to be more of a scorer for us this year in addition to her defense. Amber has started the season with an injury but is now improving.”
Hayden looks to her seniors for more than just presence on the floor or in the game.
“These four are good leaders for us on the court as well as off the court,” she said. “We also look for all of them to receive Academic All-Conference honors this season.”
Hayden brought in a lot of young talent, including seven freshmen and two sophomores. Transfers Agota Jozan and Sami Martin and freshmen Kylie Parker, Nikki Hager, Jordan Cooper and Lyndsey LaRue should start seeing significant time on the court early on.
“We have several newcomers this year. We will be looking for them make an impact right away,” Hayden said. “We have a lot of new players so they are still getting to know each other on the court, but we will continue to grow and come together with each scrimmage and game.”
The Drovers have had two preseason scrimmages, facing junior colleges Seminole State and Redlands, to prepare for the start of the season. The scrimmages were the first time some of the players saw time at the college level.
“This was the first college game or scrimmage for most of our players so they seemed a bit nervous,” Hayden said. “But we played hard, and I was pleased with our effort.”
The always-tough Sooner Athletic Conference has been in transition, having added four schools this season after others left for NCAA Division II competition.
“There is a lot of change within the conference this year,” Hayden said. “All the teams that were added to the conference this year are teams that we played on our non-conference schedule last year so they are teams we have had some experience and success playing.”
Joining the SAC are Southwestern Assemblies of God, Northwood, Southwestern Christian and Texas Wesleyan. The Drovers were 5-1 against those four schools last season.
Two SAC schools appear in the NAIA Top 25 Preseason Coaches Poll with two others receiving votes. In the SAC Preseason Coaches Poll, USAO was picked eighth.
“We don’t really pay too much attention to these rankings,” Hayden said. “Every night in the SAC is a tough game. There really are no easy opponents.”
The Drovers start off the season with six road games, starting at the Southwestern Christian Classic on Nov. 1-2 in Bethany.
Their first home game is actually the conference opener as well. The Drovers take on No. 23 Oklahoma Baptist with a tip off scheduled for 6 p.m. at the USAO Fieldhouse.
USAO is offering free high-definition live streaming of all its home games on USAO's athletic site.