The women’s basketball team is preparing for what Head Coach Rob Cross said is a long and difficult road to the Ohio Valley Conference tournament. To get ready for tough games against opponents such as Tennessee Tech, UT Martin and Morehead, Cross focused on heavy recruitment.
Freshman forward/center Natanya Jackson, freshman guard Erica Sisk, freshman forwards Kelsey Dirks and Bianca Babic, junior guard Alyssa Like and freshman guard/forward Christy Soldo will all be playing their first season as Racers.
“Sisk led her team to an undefeated season in Mississippi,” Cross said. “Dirks was an all-state player in Illinois. Like was an all-American guard and Natanya Jackson is 6’4” and has such an imposing presence. They can certainly impact things on both ends of the floor for us. We’re excited about what they all bring.”
With a stacked roster full of potential, the Racers also have to face the loss of graduates Mallory Schwab and Kayla Lowe. Lowe averaged a 74.7 percent shooting and Schwab averaged over 20 minutes per game. Cross said losing impactful players gives the seniors this year a chance to step up.
“One of the things that has happened so far is we’ve had great leadership from our seniors,” he said. “Mariah Robinson has been acting as captain of the team and we’re very excited about what she’s done.”
Experience and drive on the court is important for success, but communication and leadership is another key to a strong team. To make sure the team plays together effectively on both sides of the ball, this years’ seniors have taken incentive to provide team unity.
“The other seniors, Tessa Elkins, Kyra Watson and Candace Nevels have done a really good job stepping up and providing positive energy,” Cross said. “I’m excited about our communication. It’s the best it has been since I’ve been here. They do a great job talking on the court, and I believe that great teams are loud teams.”
The team will need all the tactics and athleticism they can get for the OVC tournament. Cross said the schedule they have this season is definitely not an easy one. He is hoping the momentum from last year will carry over into this year, the team made it to the fourth round of the tournament but lost to UT Martin.
“We have a lot of home games this year which is different,” he said. “We’re traveling to Virginia to play a James Madison team that won 29 games last year. We have tough non-conference play, but we’re very excited for how it’ll set us up for the conference. I can honestly say we have six of the top seven team of our conference in our division. It’ll be tough to play those teams twice.”
The skill, athleticism and drive of a revamped Racer team is reason enough for fans to come out and watch good basketball. Fan support gives players the motivation they need to play hard and represent Murray State. Cross said he wants to see more fans in the seats and support from the student body.
“They’re going to see some great athleticism and speed from people like Erica Burgess and Erica Sisk,” he said. “They’re going to see a great team play extremely hard. We open the season against Western Kentucky as a double header with the men. We expect that to be a good turnout. It would be great to tip off and see 9,000 fans in the stands for our game.”
The team’s first game of the season will be at 5:15 p.m. Nov. 9 at the CFSB Center against Western Kentucky.
Carly Besser, Staff Writer