Last year the Western Nebraska Community College women’s basketball team put together an incredible run at the NJCAA national tournament, finishing in the Final Four enroute to a 30-3 record.
This year, under the leadership of interim head coach Isaac Lu, who was an assistant under former coach Chad Gibney the past two years, there shouldn’t be any kind of a decline for talent this season.
“I thought we had a nice day of practice,” Lu said. “The energy level was really high. We had great communication and great effort. We continue to get better every day and I am just excited to get out on Saturday (at the first scrimmages). We have dealt with some minor injuries early on this year, but everyone is finely getting back healthy, so I am looking to have a full squad back on the court.”
The Cougars lost a plethora of players to the Division I level a year ago, but they return five players that were a part of the Final Four team from a year ago.
The five returners include Yara Garcia, 5-8 guard from Scottsbluff, Martrice Brooks, 5-8 guard from Springfield, Illinois, Bre Fowler, 5-8 guard from Berthoud, Colorado, Mia Jaye Sarkodee-Adoo, 6-2 post from London, England, and Rashaan Smith, a 6-4 post from Auckland, New Zealand.
The newcomers are talented with plenty of height. One newcomer is a sophomore transfer and that is Shiho Isono, a 5-6 guard from Fukuoka, Japan. Isono played at Tacoma Community College last year.
The rest of the newcomers include Jayla Owen, a 5-6 guard from Dorval, Quebec; Emmie Persson-Bandh, a 6-0 forward from Sweden, Jamie Caron, a 5-7 guard from Rifle, Colorado, Gal-La Font, a 6-0 forward from Barcelona, Spain, Mackenzie Joseph, a 5-11 forward from Vinton, Louisiana; Imani Harris, a 5-5 guard from Bronx, New York; Ola Duda, a 6-4 post from Porazyn, Poland, Faith Walker, a 6-0 forward from Michigan, and Natalie Barry, a 5-6 guard from Crawford, Nebraska.
Lu said there is a lot of talent on this team.
“I think we will have a team that can really space the floor really well within our system,” he said. “They should be able to create driving lanes for our down-hill guards. I think we have a well-rounded team with post players that can score inside, some guards that can make plays and do down hill, and others players that can shoot the ball. I am excited to see how we can develop within our offensive system and how the players continue to learn and grow.”
The official first day of practice was Saturday, October 1, but Lu gave the players the weekend off after they worked hard during the pre-season conditioning the week before. Monday was the first day the team got to work to try to make a seventh-straight invite to the national tournament.
Sarkodee-Adoo said the team looked good after the first day of practice.
“The first day of practice looked good and we kept the energy up,” she said. “We picked things up and we started communicating and things were going better than they were.”
The goal of this year’s team is to make a return trip to nationals and Sarkodee-Adoo believes they can do that and she said 100 percent they can repeat what last year’s team did. They are also hoping to get back to nationals as an at-large team, but a regional champion.
“We have the talent. Everyone just needs to stick together and work together and we can make it back to the same place or even further,” she said. “We have virtually everything. We have bigs, guards. I am excited for the team.”