Alex Harden understands the importance that eight straight days of practice can have on an inexperienced team like Wichita State. She promises she does.
But that understanding can’t do much to satisfy her hunger for competition.
While Harden may be able to reflect back on this last week of practice as a crucial stretch for the development of the team, she is more than ready for WSU’s return from break on Sunday afternoon when it plays host to Air Force at Koch Arena.
“We haven’t played anybody in what seems like forever,” Harden said. “I’m just excited to get back out there and seeing how all the kinks have been worked out and seeing the new things that develop. I just want to play again.”
Some of the Shockers’ momentum may be stemmed from back-to-back 20-point victories over Kansas State and Southeast Missouri State, but coach Jody Adams will gladly sacrifice that if it means the seven first-year Division I players improved.
Adams has said she has not felt comfortable expanding her rotation to include any of the five freshmen against quality opponents. Against Oklahoma, Saint Joseph’s and K-State, only Jaleesa Chapel played more than five minutes and that was just once.
Finding at least two candidates to join the five returners and junior-college transfers Jamillah Bonner and Valerierose Agnello is the goal.
“They’ve done a lot better,” Harden said of the freshmen. “The biggest thing right now is making sure they do all the little details right because that’s what matters in games. We’re pushing them to see what our real potential is. We just have to stay detailed the whole time in practice.”
Chapel, a 5-foot-9 wing, and Moriah Dapprich, a 6-foot post, appear the most capable to contribute early. Chapel has a defensive intensity that could prove useful off the bench, while Dapprich, like her older sister Michaela, presents an enticing option as a forward that can stretch defenses with her range.
But learning to play at the speed Division I requires has created a learning curve.
“From high school, it’s so much different,” Chapel said. “The pace is a lot faster. Everything is a lot faster. The coaches are trying to slow it down for us and make it easier. We’re getting better every day.”
Playing an opponent like Air Force (0-4), picked to finish 11th in the Mountain West before the season, could lead to an opportunity for many of the freshmen to play significant minutes.
After eight straight days of practice, Harden says the newcomers will be ready.
“They’re going to get a chance and it’s going to give them confidence to be ready to play in those big games for us,” Harden said. “They’re still learning how to push past their mental fatigue and we’re helping them with that. We’re going to need them to put together 40 minutes in March.”