Lost in the hysteria of winning another Missouri Valley Conference championship are the forgotten expectations of the Wichita State women’s basketball team entering this season.
The Shockers were supposed to be good, indeed, but there was supposed to be some type of transition from losing seven players from last season’s roster, including three that were considered the foundation to last season’s championship run.
What coach Jody Adams proved this season is there is no time for rebuilding when she’s at the helm. The Shockers were able to return to the NCAA Tournament, where they will play third-seeded Penn State on its home court Sunday, with seven newcomers and one senior.
That’s right, 11 of the 12 players this season return next season.
“It seems like we just keep getting better,” WSU sophomore Michaela Dapprich said. “We lost six seniors last year and we came back even stronger. Now we’re only losing one, so I think we’re definitely going to be stronger next year.”
Remember, this is a group that reeled off a program-best 20-game winning streak, attained the program’s first national ranking, and won consecutive regular-season and postseason Missouri Valley championships.
Michelle Price will certainly leave a void, but even the graduating senior recognizes the potential of this team in the future.
“It’s so crazy and I’m so happy for them,” Price said. “They’re going to be so good next year. I just can’t wait to see what the future holds for this program.”
It starts with Alex Harden, the 5-foot-11 do-everything centerpiece that is widely regarded as the most talented player in the Missouri Valley. She averaged 17.1 points on 48.6-percent shooting, 5.8 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.4 steals, and 1.2 blocks, and could be in line for an even bigger senior season.
Jamillah Bonner and Kelsey Jacobs will also be seniors next season and return to the starting lineup. Dapprich, another full-time starter is back, and super sixth man Alie Decker, just a redshirt freshman, could easily slide into the starting lineup.
That means five of the six in the group Adams calls one of the best units in the nation will be back.
“We’re trying to build tradition here,” Harden said. “That’s what Jody recruited us to do and that’s the plan. We’re all working toward that goal.”
The bench will be a question mark, but Adams is confident the talent to contribute is there in the five true freshmen on this season’s team. Jaleesa Chapel appears the most ready to contribute, but Marissa Preston, Kayla White, Briana Jones, and Moriah Dapprich have all showed flashes of what they could do.
Adams thinks the experience of the NCAA Tournament this week will be crucial for their development.
“They’re going to understand this is why we work the way we do,” Adams said. “This is why we have a vision of winning championships and understanding what a true investment is. When you invest, the return is great. And when you give, the return is greater.”
The winning has also helped Adams on the recruiting path, where she was able to lock up point guard Aundra Stovall, a heralded 5-foot-6 point guard from Arlington, Texas, and junior-college transfer Brittany Martin, a 6-foot-4 center that gives WSU its first true center in the Adams’ era.
Adams is starting to discover she doesn’t have to pitch Wichita State as much as she has had to in the past. The wins and championships speak for themselves.
“Absolutely,” Adams said. “We’re visible across the country now.”
No longer does Adams have to sell players on a dream of becoming something more.
That dream has now become reality and Wichita State, now back-to-back Missouri Valley champions, are in the middle of a reign with no expiration date.
Now players want to come to sustain it.
“That’s exactly why I came here,” Chapel said. “I wanted to win a championship, and right now this is the perfect place to be.”