New look women’s hoops is ready for new season
When the calendar turns over into November, it not only means that Thanksgiving is right around the corner , but that it’s time to start the college basketball season. With the opening night at Tudor Fieldhouse set for this Tuesday, the Rice women’s basketball team looks to follow up on their WNIT championship last season with another strong year, but will have to overcome an offseason of turnover first.
Last season, the Owls made a deep postseason run. After winning the Conference USA West Division and earning the No. 1 seed in the C-USA tournament, the Owls made it to the championship game, where they fell to Middle Tennessee State University 68-65. While they narrowly missed out on an NCAA tournament bid, the Owls were awarded a berth into the WNIT, where they won each of their games by double digits en route to the program’s first WNIT championship. After the success from last year, junior guard Haylee Swayze is excited for the new season and the return to basketball.
“We are just excited to start playing and see what we can do,” Swayze said. “Each year is a grind and I am looking forward to doing it with this team and coaching staff.”
As the season starts, the big elephant in the room is how the Owls will handle the new coaching staff and new roster. Following last season, former head coach Tina Langley accepted the head coaching position at the University of Washington, and took with her last season’s two leading scorers Nancy Mulkey and Lauren Schwartz. Two more starters from last year’s team, Sydne Wiggins and Jasmine Smith, left for Southern Methodist University. After the unexpected changes, sophomore guard Katelyn Crosthwait said that the off-season was a great opportunity to get tighter as a team.
“After a lot of unexpected events, the offseason has been able to prepare all of us for really any other barriers that may hit us,” Crosthwait said. “We have learned so much about each other and have been able to grow on and off the court. Through the new staff, we have been challenged mentally and psychically to be the best versions of ourselves.”
To replace Langley, the Owls hired Lindsay Edmonds. As the former North Carolina State University associate head coach, Edmonds helped the Wolfpack win the Atlantic Coast Conference championship in the past two seasons as well as five NCAA tournament appearances, reaching the Sweet Sixteen in three of them. According to Crosthwait, the team is excited to play under the new coach and her staff.
“I’m very excited to play for Coach Edmonds,” Crosthwait said. “I enjoy her style of play and her leadership. I feel confident in her coaching abilities and who she has chosen to help alongside her.”
Swayze echoed her teammates’ thoughts about the new coaching staff and agreed that the offseason was a great opportunity for everyone to mesh well.
“A lot of this offseason has been getting to know our coaching staff and their expectations for the team,” Swayze said. “They have done a great job preparing us and instilling a passion to get better every day. I am very grateful for their leadership.”
One key difference in this season will be the impact of fans. Last season, due to the campus COVID-19 restrictions, there were a very limited number of fans allowed at the games. This year, the Owls are excited to play at home in front of their fans, in an unlimited capacity, for the first time in two years.
“It has been a long time since we have played, especially with fans, and we are looking forward to competing at a high level this year,” Swayze said. “I am really excited for basketball to start … and we are so thankful to our fans for their continued support.”
According to Swayze, as the offseason winds down, the team is working hard to improve and build on last year’s team success while still having fun playing ball.
“We have always been a team that does the little things and I think that will carry over this year,” Swayze said. “It is what disciplined teams do and it leads to great things. I also want us to have fun competing together because playing college basketball is a great place to be.”
The Owls will open up the season at home against St. Edward’s University, next Tuesday, Nov. 9 at 5 p.m.
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