On Friday night the Wichita State women’s basketball team will play its first game in program history as a ranked team when it plays Drake in Des Moines.
Of course, nothing about the No. 24 ranking the Shockers received in this week’s USA Today coaches poll altered the makeup of the team. They are still the same squad currently on the program’s best winning streak, now at 19 consecutive wins, and leading the Missouri Valley with an unblemished 11-0 record.
But throw the national ranking on top of being undefeated and the winning streak and being defending league champion, and the urgency to knock off the Shockers has peaked.
And WSU can already sense it, as it embarks on a road swing capable of spoiling its season with a capable Drake team on Friday and then Northern Iowa, which is 7-4 in the Valley, on Sunday.
“I feel like we have to bring 10 times more intensity now,” WSU junior Kelsey Jacobs said. “I’ve noticed, and I think everyone has noticed, that every team brings their best game every time against us.”
There isn’t a player on the roster who has experienced being the top team at this level, of absorbing every team’s best, of learning how to handle success at this magnitude.
So an understanding had to be reached between all 12 players. They don’t know what is coming, and they had to admit that, so they could rely on a coaching staff of former players who do know.
“They’ve been there and done that; we haven’t,” Jacobs said. “So that’s all we can do. We have to follow their leadership because we really do respect that (experience). We’re very blessed to have that opportunity.”
It starts with coach Jody Adams, who was the starting point guard on Tennessee’s 1991 NCAA championship team and won four SEC titles in her career.
Then there is assistant Bridgette Gordon, an Olympic gold medalist and women’s basketball Hall of Famer. Dana Eikenberg, another assistant, is a former Valley Coach of the Year. And Kirk Crawford is a post guru who trains NBA and WNBA players during the summer.
It’s a cast that any player could learn from.
“We’ve succeeded as players in their environment, but we’ve also failed as a player in their environment,” Adams said. “We failed as leaders, Bridgette, and I, and Dana. Then again, we won championships, too. So we can share both sides, as players and as coaches.”
Adams has been pleased by what she has seen from her team, most notably leaders senior Michelle Price and junior Alex Harden. “You know they’re responding because after you tell the story once, (the mistake) doesn’t happen again,” she said.
While WSU’s player may have never been on this stage before, Adams and Co. have made it their focus to ensure this team is prepared for what is coming from the Missouri Valley — and beyond.
“It’s up to this coaching staff to keep these guys on their toes,” Adams said. “We want them seeking, and hunting, and wanting more than what’s here in the present.”