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Rice Women’s Basketball prepares for challenging season

Junior forward Malia Fisher shoots the ball against Houston Christian University. The Owls defeated the Huskies 70-38 in their season opener on Monday night. Kathleen Ortiz / Thresher

By Kathleen Ortiz     11/7/23 11:27pm

The Rice Women’s basketball team started its 2023 season Nov. 6 with a 70-38 win against Houston Christian University, but the Owls’ season will only intensify from there. While the team’s American Athletic Conference debut isn’t until Jan. 3, 2024, head coach Lindsay Edmonds will stick to the team’s “Win the Day” mantra as her squad adjusts to their new rivals after leaving the Conference-USA last year. Edmonds, who is entering her third year leading Rice’s program, said that she’s excited about the move to the “more prestigious” conference.

“I think every game is going to prepare us for American [Athletic Conference],” Edmonds said. “American [Athletic Conference] is going to be a step up and a bigger and better conference, and the games are all going to be a little bit tougher, but I think our non-conference slate should help us be prepared for those moments.”

While the AAC will provide a new challenge, the team will look to improve upon their own success from last season, where they had the best start in program history, winning nine straight games, and winning 23 matches overall for just the third time in program history. 

“The bar is set pretty high,” Edmonds said. “I think we all have the mindset of ‘We’re going to do whatever it takes to be one percent better this year than we were last year’ and I think that it’ll stem from the hunger and the eagerness to compete with what we did last year, but take it a game at a time.”

Edmonds said that she adjusted the summer and fall workout plan this year to help with the burnout she noticed last season, which meant fewer team practices over the summer and greater focus on individual development. Despite the changes, Edmonds said that this year’s squad has already made an impression on her in terms of team culture. 

“I feel like this group is the closest group we’ve ever had,” Edmonds said. “And when you have each other’s back and you have so much love for one another and everybody’s striving toward the same goal, I feel like the milestones that we can reach could be really special.”

Sophomore guard Dominique Ennis said that the type of culture the Owls have is rare nowadays. Ennis cites the off-court relationships as one thing that makes this team so special on the floor as well.

“Building lifelong sisterhood bonds off the floor, I think that’s where that all starts,” Ennis said. “It’s not something really the coaches tell us to do, but something we want to do. You know, ‘keep climbing the ladder,’ like we say, so as long as we keep doing that and building relationships off the court, too, it’s going to be really special.”

Part of this culture came with the addition of newcomers Emily Klaczek and Sussy Ngulefac, a junior center who transferred from Samford University. Klaczek, a junior guard who transferred from the University of Alabama, Birmingham, was voted captain in her first season with the Owls. In addition, according to Edmonds, Ngulefac’s apartment has become the team’s “hangout place.”

“[Klaczek] came in as already been voted as a captain, so I think that proves that by the end of the summer, she already had her teammates’ trust and knew that she was leading them in the right way,” Edmonds said. “And then [Ngulefac] has this infectious personality and really wants to care for everyone.”

After going 13-25 at UAB, Klaczek is looking for her first winning season as a college athlete. She began this year scoring 26 points during Rice’s Nov. 1 exhibition game against Angelo State, where Ngulefac also added 12 points to the 101-47 exhibition win. 

“There’s a lot of players that I expect a lot of things from and that’s why I just keep talking about how deep I think we are,” Edmonds said. “But we won’t win a lot of games if we’re a one-person show. That’s not who we’ve ever been, and that’s not who we’ll be this year either.”

In terms of upperclassmen Edmonds will be looking toward the most, she cited ​​fifth year Destiny Jackson, junior Malia Fisher and junior Maya Bokunewicz. However, Edmonds also had praise for the sophomore class and the key part they will play this season as well.

“I got a core group that really really knows what I want,” Edmonds said. “They know what my expectations are and they’re doing a great job of delivering that to the younger players, and they’re catching on quickly and they’re doing whatever it takes to make those things happen. I think that definitely plays a factor into it. I feel good about my core group in knowing what we expect and what we want.”

While building on last year’s success is a must for the team, Edmonds emphasized the need to move forward and make this next season better. That will include making successes like the season opener against the Huskies even stronger. After only giving up five points in the first half, the team gave up more than six times that number in the second half.

“I feel like tonight we showed in spurts who we are, but I don’t feel like we played a 40-minute game of Rice women’s basketball,” Edmonds said of the team’s Monday night game. “I think there are definitely some areas that we can clean up and improve in, but again, [we are] 1-0 to start the season and I’m proud of them for that.”

The team will travel to Abilene for a game against Abilene Christian University Nov. 9, before they head to Fort Worth Nov. 12 to play Texas Christian University. The Horned Frogs will be Rice’s first opponent from a Power Five conference this year, as they ranked last in the Big 12 for the past two seasons. 

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