Hardin-Simmons women's basketball team will have a new look this season as former player and Hall of Famer Kendra Hassell has returned to HSU to take over as head coach of the program.
The Cowgirls will play an up-tempo style that will be entertaining for both fans to watch and players to play.
"We are going to play an up-tempo style," said Hassell. "We are going to be a team that fights to win each possession. As we approach the start of the season, I'm proud to say this team has shown consistent energy and intensity throughout our preseason practices."
HSU returns just six players from a year ago and the team will not have a senior but Hassell likes what she has seen so far.
"I believe this is a group of competitors that is willing to put in the work required to be successful in the ASC," Hassell said. "With this being my first season at HSU, every drill, play, and many overall concepts have been new for the players. I have been impressed by how quickly they have adjusted and how hard they are working to improve every time they step on the floor.
Juniors Taylor Gaffney and Taylor Seastrunk are the most experienced returners. Gaffney averaged 9.8 points and she led the team with 78 assists. Seastrunk was the Cowgirls top defensive player last season and she started 20 games and averaged 3.9 points and 3.6 rebounds per game.
"T.G. (Gaffney) is an aggressive player that really likes to get out in the open floor and run and she can knock down the 3-pointer. Taylor Seastrunk is a very aggressive on-the-ball defender. She has worked hard on her shooting and that has improved as well."
Sophomore Karlea Ritchie is expected to be one of the Cowgirls' top players. She averaged 4.7 points last year and led the Cowgirls with 6.6 rebounds per game. She was named to the ASC All-Freshman team.
"Karlea will primarily play the four for us, but she may see some time at the three as well. Her length and athleticism provide a different look for us on the wing that should help us defensively and on the boards."
Sophomore Ryan Bush is back after playing in 24 games a year ago. She was third on the team in 3-pointers and averaged 3.9 points per game, despite playing with an injured shoulder that she had to have surgery on in the offseason. Sophomore Kaitlyn Ellis played in 18 games as a freshman and gives the Cowgirls some experience in the post. Sophomore Jesyka Lee started five games as a freshman and played in 18.
"Jesyka gives 100 percent all the time, Kaitlyn Ellis is a face-up scorer who is quickly developing back to the basket moves to score in the post and Ryan does a lot of things well for us. They all have that experience of playing college basketball for a year which helps as well."
The Cowgirls have nine newcomers, including three transfers and six freshmen.
Junior college transfers A'Breanna Harrison from Jacksonville College and Kiana Reed from Temple College are two players that will give the Cowgirls some size in the post.
"A'Breanna is a really good leader for us on and off the court. In recent years, she has not been on a team where she was counted on to be a scorer. She is adjusting to that role for us and we think she is going to be a great asset. Kiana is an aggressive post who uses her size well and she gets better every day. We are excited about what they both bring to our team."
Maria Fernandez is a freshman point guard from Nolan Catholic in Fort Worth. "Maria is a skilled point guard that sees the floor well and she can really shoot it," said Hassell.
Conley Niblett is a 5-10 guard from Colorado City, who was one of the top players in the Big Country as a senior.
"Conley is a slasher that has good size and she can shoot it, we expect that she is going to step in and give us some solid minutes."
Keilee Burke is a 5-11 freshman post from Belton and is a good rebounder and doing a great job in the post. Logan Haller is from Round Rock Christian Academy and is a good 3-point shooter as well as an intense defender.
For a team that is coming off a 6-20 season, coming together as a team will be one of the first priorities and Hassell has seen that in the preseason.
"This is a team that has become very close off the court and I think we will start to see that chemistry translated to the court as they continue to learn about each other's strengths," said Hassell.
"I'm looking forward to watching this team compete and to seeing how much they can grow throughout the course of the season."