The Wichita State women’s basketball team is favored to win its third straight Missouri Valley Conference championship, and rightfully so.
The Shockers return five of their top six players from last season’s title winners, which pushed Penn State, who went on to the Sweet 16, to its limits in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Those five alone make WSU the class of the conference.
But really, this team revolves around 5-foot-11 senior Alex Harden. She spearheads a deadly full-court press, can defend four positions, bring the ball up and direct the offense, and morph into an unstoppable force when driving toward the basket. Harden has been the best two-way player in the conference for two years now, and is looking to elevate her game to an even higher level in her farewell season.
The graduation of Michelle Price forces this team to evolve. Price’s post defense, magnetic rebounding ability, and relentless energy cannot be replicated. But the Shockers can survive, and perhaps even become more potent offensively by introducing another shooter into the starting unit.
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Last season WSU struggled at times with its spacing on offense. Harden and Jamillah Bonner are excellent at breaking down defenses by penetrating the middle, but last season defenses could collapse and afford to let WSU shoot three-pointers. That should change this season with the addition of Alie Decker into the starting lineup.
Michaela Dapprich, strong enough at 5-10 to defend the post and capable of shooting the three, will become a full-time stretch four this season. Along with Decker, they will camp out along the perimeter and make teams pay for leaving them to help stop Bonner or Harden.
The full-court pressure employed by Adams in a variety of fronts is as potent as ever this season, with Harden, Bonner, and Jacobs capable of wrecking havoc, and should generate plenty of turnovers once again. But this year, WSU will not rely on it for a good portion of its offense.
Rebounding is a concern, as Dapprich and Jacobs have never anchored the team’s rebounding before. But Bonner and Harden are plus-rebounders from the guard spots, and under Adams WSU has shown the toughness to negate its lack of height and bulk on the blocks.
The only unknown entering the season is the team’s bench. Only five are eligible to play this season and only sophomore Jaleesa Chapel has played anything close to meaningful minutes. There are talented options, but consistency is vital to Adams and will determine who emerges as reliable options.
Chapel, a rugged defender who can seamlessly transition into the press, is the best bet to be the first off the bench. Aundra Stovall is a fiery freshman and the only option to run point behind Bonner and Harden. Kayla White is another guard possibility, and Dapprich’s younger sister, Moriah, is working on her aggression.
But the most tantalizing option is 6-foot-3 sophomore transfer Brittany Martin, who gives Adams something she’s never had at WSU: height. And Martin isn’t a statue. She can run the floor and use her athleticism and length to protect the paint for the Shockers. If her mental side catches up with her physical attributes, Martin could push WSU to a new level of play.
This team has the pieces to win the Valley solely for the first time and return to the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season. But can it win on the biggest stage? That remains to be seen, but this year’s team, with Harden at her peak, could be WSU’s best chance.
Shocker women’s roster
Red Oak, Texas
All times p.m.
at E. Washington
x-Florida Gulf Coast
Sam Houston St.
at Missouri St.
at Northern Iowa
at Illinois St.
at Southern Illinois
at Indiana St.
x-at St. Thomas, Virgin Islands
y-at St. Charles, Mo.