The journey for the women’s basketball team ended long and bumpy, as it finished 11-17 overall and failed to make it to the OVC Tournament.
While fatigue and injuries affected the Racers’ record, Head Coach Rob Cross said it didn’t keep the team from learning and gaining valuable experience.
“That is the one thing I am the most proud of,” Cross said. “Despite all the losses and a seven-game the losing streak, the team didn’t argue or complain once.”
The list of accomplishments for this year’s team begins with senior Jessica Winfrey, who recorded nine double-doubles, including two games with 20 rebounds. Winfrey provided the leadership for the team, and she will be a player the Racers will have to replace.
“The numbers she put up was impressive, averaging a double-double this season,” Cross said. “But the biggest thing she did was provide stability and leadership, and we are going to miss that.”
Winfrey averaged nearly 11 points and 11 rebounds per game and finished with 302 rebounds.
Murray State started the season strong, earning seven wins in non-conference play, making it one of three teams in the conference with a winning record at the time. When the OVC preseason poll slotted the Racers third in the West Division, Cross said the team looked to prove the poll wrong.
“We beat Saint Louis and lost to a Big East team in Xavier by three points,” Cross said. “It showed that we could play with that level of competition and we were ready for conference play.”
Though the first two conference games were close, the Racers opened OVC play with back-to-back losses to Eastern Kentucky and UT Martin.
“As a team we saw that and thought this was our opportunity to make a run for the championship,” Cross said.
Unfortunately, the team struggled against each opponent and failed to earn a win until January when Murray State defeated rival Austin Peay 76-68.
The following game the Racers faced off against Belmont and suffered a crucial injury that changed the season.
Junior guard Keiona Kirby had led the team with nearly 20 points per game, but she injured her knee 19 seconds into play.
“We had already lost Antonia Niebler and Andrea Dickerson for the season, and from that point forward it was just a battle,” Cross said. “We lost one of the best guards in the league and somebody that was a huge piece for us offensively scoring and rebounding.”
Without Kirby, the Racers lost seven straight games before defeating Eastern Illinois on Feb. 15. During the losing streak, the Racers rotated four freshman guards and turned to Julia Fox to take the scoring role from Kirby. Two games later, Fox suffered a similar knee injury.
With the postseason out of the picture, the Racers took the opportunity to improve and start building a foundation for next year.
Junior forward Netanya Jackson finished the season with three consecutive OVC Newcomer of the Week awards and averaged nearly a double-double the final three weeks of the season.
Freshman guard Janssen Starks started all 28 games for the Racers, and her role changed throughout the year. Starks averaged almost 11 points and four assists this season.
“When we signed her we didn’t know exactly what we were going to get from her,” Cross said. “Janssen is a problem solver and she figured out how to score more and get to the free throw line when we needed it.”
Murray State earned one postseason award when freshman guard Taylor Porter made the OVC All-Newcomer team. Porter started in 17 games for the Racers and led the team with 306 points.
“Early in the season her confidence was shaken due to turnovers and she was in a hurry,” Cross said. “Throughout the year she slowed down and became a much better player for us.”
Murray State will return all four injured players, along with new players in sophomore transfer guard LeAsia Wright and freshman Ke’Shunan James.
Story by Tom Via, Staff writer