MANHATTAN, Kans. – Being short-handed and short is not a good formula for any basketball team. Despite just having six healthy players and no player over six feet in height, Kansas State still managed to persevere last season.
The Wildcats were 5-13 in the Big 12 Conference, playing most of the league season with a reduced and vertically-challenged roster. K-State made a run in the WNIT, losing in the semifinals to finish the season 19-18 overall.
“I think the best lesson that I hope carries over from last season is to never give up,” coach Deb Patterson said Monday during the Big 12 Women’s Basketball Campus Tour. “We fought hard. Understanding what happens if you never give up is the best thing I could ask for this season.”
And this year’s team does have players that stretch the tape measure. Katya Leick, a 6-1 senior forward, returns after suffering an ACL injury a year ago. Freshmen Breanna Lewis (6-foot-5), Erica Young (6-3) and Jessica Sheble (6-3) will help provide a post presence plus rebounding and rim protection.
“It’s a lot more fun having some tall players,” said sophomore guard Bri Craig, who averaged 8.3 points per game. “We relied so much on the perimeter game last year that having that presence inside will create more open looks outside and give us chances to score other places, whether its penetrating for layups, getting to the foul line to driving and kicking back out to shooters.”
To compensate for a lack of low post production, K-State launched a program-record and Big 12 record 1,077 3-pointers. Craig, who hopes to have a more diverse offensive arsenal this season, attempted 229 of her 347 shots from behind the 3-point line.
“You can be sure that we are going to get a lot more post-touches,” Patterson said. “It’s great to take some pressure off (our perimeter players) by having some of those big lanky, long, post players ready to catch and to take up space.”
With five freshmen and four players returning who missed last season due to injury, the Wildcats will be a work in progress during preseason practice and nonconference play. Patterson’s challenge is meshing an increased emphasis on inside play with last season’s outside shooting. K-State was able to get a jump start on putting the pieces together during a summer trip to Italy.
“Our chemistry is great even though we’re still working on that,” said freshman guard Kindred Wesemann. “There’s a lot of excitement and enthusiasm and we just need for that to carry over into the season.”
K-State has three returning starters. Replacing Brittany Chambers, though, will be a huge challenge. She capped a remarkable four-year career by leading the Wildcats in scoring, rebounding, assists, minutes played, 3-pointers made and free throws attempted.
“There’s a heightened level of competition,” Craig said. “Somebody has to pick up that slack. We all know there’s a lot to replace in terms of scoring, leadership, all of the things Brittany did for the team. We’re all working harder to make sure we get it done.”
Wesemann, a 5-8 guard from Pleasant Hill, Mo., and Leticia Romero, a 5-8 guard from Las Palmas, Spain, are candidates to fill some of the void at point guard. Haley Texada, a 5-7 junior guard, is the team’s top returning scorer at 11.8 points per game and could see some time at point guard.
“I don’t know you can replace a player like Brittany,” Patterson said. “We’ve got some young guards who can share the responsibility. We’ll be a different looking team but we have to figure out a way to make up for the points that Brittany provided and also score more because what we did score wasn’t enough to get us into the NCAA Tournament.”