The Washburn women’s basketball team was picked eighth in the 2017-18 MIAA preseason coaches poll released on Wednesday, ahead of a season in which the Ichabods will rely heavily on newcomers and underclassmen.
Washburn, which went 17-12 overall and 10-9 in the MIAA last year, will enter with 11 newcomers on its roster.
“With a lot of new faces, either freshmen or transfer kids, that could be a challenge, but it also could be exciting,” Washburn coach Ron McHenry said for MIAA virtual media day. “A lot of new faces and new energy. It’s kind of like going to practice and seeing what you have. Sometimes you already know what you have because you’d had players for years. For the young players and new players it’s exciting to get them in the gym and see how they’re going to compete.
“I enjoy that part of developing players and developing teams. This one here will take a little while with new players, but it’s developing nicely, it really is. There’s a lot of players in the gym who are looking to play and looking to win games and be a part of a successful program.”
Central Missouri was picked to win the conference after garnering seven first-place votes. Pittsburg State (four first-place votes) was second, Emporia State (two first-place votes) was third, Central Oklahoma (one first-place vote) was fourth and Fort Hays State rounded out the top five.
Sophomore point guard Reagan Phelan is Washburn’s lone returning starter, averaging 11.2 points, 2.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds as a freshman.
“She is the most established player back and only a sophomore,” McHenry said of the Central Plains product. “That’s a lot on her plate but Reagan’s always been up for the challenge and I expect her to have a great year. Her leadership skills are getting better everyday and I think this team here understands she’s the leader out there on the floor, even though she is a young player. Reagan is an All-MIAA type player.”
Transfers expected to play key roles immediately include guards Taylor Blue and Denesia Smith from Pima Community College (Ariz.), and forward Axelle Bernard, a Belgium native who played last season at UTEP.
“The two out of Pima have been trained really well,” McHenry said. “They won a lot of games at Pima, which is a good sign. Both of them have the ability to score without an offense. They can put the ball on the floor and shoot the ball. I call them go-to type scorers. Both are really good teammates. Both can compete well and have won at a high level in junior college. We’ll count on those kids to be a factor in the outcome of our games.
“Axelle Bernard is a 6-2 kid who can step out and shoot the 3 and post it. She played on the Belgium national team and has a lot of experience. She has a great feel for the game.”
Washburn has five true freshmen, including Capital-Journal first-team All-State guards Hunter Bentley (Miege) and Katy Heger (Hugoton). Guard Jordan Lenherr, a Hayden graduate, transferred to Washburn after one season on the soccer team at Emporia State.
WU returners include guards Cara Donley and Makayla and Madison Vargo, and forward Jo Roepke, who appeared in four games last year and received a medical redshirt.
Washburn’s only exhibition will be at Baylor on Nov. 6. The Ichabods will open the regular season in the Central Region Challenge Nov. 10-11 against Minnesota State-Mankato and Mary (S.D) at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo. WU’s home opener will be against Nebraska Christian on Nov. 15.
“It’s kind of the same M.O. — tough (nonconference) schedule and then a tough league,” McHenry said. “Our challenge is to get back up there in the top of that battle and compete for the conference championship.”
Emporia State will be tasked with replacing WBCA national player of the year Kelly Moten and standout forward Kathryn Flott. But the Hornets, who went 29-5 last season and advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 for the sixth straight year, will return three starters in seniors Addie Lackey, Kyrstie Miller and Jacee Kramer.
“Everybody’s going to ask that question of how you’re going to replace someone of the caliber of Kelly and the person and contributor that Kathryn was and even the leadership that Megan (Holloway) brought us out of that senior class,” ESU coach Jory Collins said. “It is what it is. You’re not to replace those players with one person. But we’ve had some good players that have been waiting in the wings that maybe didn’t get to play as much because you knew Kelly was going to be out there for 30-plus (minutes). Those players are looking good and eager to prove that they can play at a high level.”
2017-18 Women’s basketball poll
1. Central Missouri (7)* 158 points
2. Pittsburg State (4) 157 points
3. Emporia State (2) 150 points
4. Central Oklahoma (1) 138 points
5. Fort Hays State 110 points
6. Missouri Western 106 points
7. Lindenwood 96 points
8. Washburn 88 points
9. Southwest Baptist 78 points
10. Nebraska Kearney 62 points
11. Missouri Southern 49 points
12. Northwest Missouri 43 points
13. Northeastern State 21 points
14. Lincoln 18 points