The Wichita State women’s basketball team will discover immediately where it stands in the Missouri Valley Conference.
The first challenge of the new year will be opening up conference play on the road Sunday afternoon against Missouri State, a chief rival with a four-game winning streak under first-year coach Kellie Harper.
While the Shockers had the unquestioned best non-conference season, 9-3 with eight straight wins, they also have seven players making MVC debuts on Sunday.
“I think they understand the challenge, but they don’t know because they haven’t been through it,” WSU coach Jody Adams said. “That’s why we keep things consistent for them, whether it’s home or away, conference, non-conference. Keeping things consistent with how we prepare is how we make sure everybody is on the same page.”
Wichita State is also coming off a two-week layoff, which may have stemmed the momentum of its successful non-conference season.
But players pointed to the last long break — eight days off in late November — when the team came back and won all six of its December contests.
“We just tightened up the bolts on the machine,” junior Alex Harden said.
“I feel like we improved a lot,” sophomore Michaela Dapprich added. “This break actually helped us, going down through the different details that we needed to get through. We came together more as a team.”
That chemistry is what Adams likes the most about this year’s team, even though there have been so many new faces. The coach even went on to say it has improved over what was already a close-knit team last season.
While the Shockers may not have the depth of talent as they did last season, they have been able to replicate the success because of what Adams said was chemistry on the court.
“They really value each other’s crafts and I think they play well off each other crafts,” Adams said. “They hold each other accountable and they play hard for each other.”
After winning the regular-season and tournament titles last season, Wichita State has assumed the position once again as favorite entering conference play.
Sunday’s result won’t decide the title either way, but it should give a glimpse of how quickly the newcomers are ready to contribute.
“The biggest thing is to stay hungry and knowing that everybody is coming for us,” Harden said. “We have the big target on our back and we’re ready for it.”