LAWRENCE, Kans. - Achieving success is one challenge in college athletics. Maintaining success is another challenge that, arguably, is more difficult.
That’s the issue facing Kansas. The Jayhawks, after a lengthy stretch without an NCAA Tournament appearance, reached the Sweet 16 each of the last two seasons. However, the three players who helped drive the team the last two years – Angel Goodrich, Carolyn Davis and Monica Engelman – have moved on. They combined to score nearly 40 points per game.
When the Big 12 Women’s Basketball Campus Tour visited Tuesday, Kansas coach Bonnie Henrickson explained how and why she thinks the program she has built will withstand and maintain.
“Tradition doesn’t graduate,” she said.
After falling short of the NCAA Tournament during her first seven seasons with the Jayhawks, Kansas broke through two years ago and now hopes that it is establishing a tradition of sustained success.
“For us, it’s get better, get better, get better,” Henrickson said. “We still haven’t reached the pinnacle. We’ve had national champions come from the Big 12 and our staff has often said that it’s tougher to win a Big 12 championship than it is to win a national title. Here at Kansas, that’s what motivates and drives us.”
Chelsea Gardner, a 6-3 junior forward, is the Jayhawks’ top returning scorer at 8.7 points per game. She also had averaged a team-best 6.9 rebounds per game.
“I’m looking to take more of a leadership role, be more vocal,” Gardner said. “That’s not easy for me because I’m not talkative person. But that’s one of the things this team needs.”
Replacing Goodrich, who had a successful rookie season in the WNBA will be difficult. She averaged 14.1 points, led KU in 3-point shooting and steals while averaging 7.2 assists per game.
Sophomore Lamaria Cole figures to take over for Goodrich.
“I’m not asking her to be Angel Goodrich. I’m asking her to be the best Lamaria Cole she can be,” Henrickson said. “She is starting to pick things up and starting to take over a leadership role. Are we still going to push the ball? Yes.”
Junior Natalie Knight also should play a key role. She averaged 8.3 points per game before suffering an ACL injury in late January. When she was hurt, she was playing 35 minutes a game and led the nation in assist to turnover ratio.
"I am excited to get back out there and play with everybody,” Knight said. "One goal is to make it further than last year, but moving past the Sweet 16 is definitely on my mind. Of course, we want to win a national championship, but I think getting back to the Sweet 16 and beyond would be great."
Kansas is expecting five freshmen to make an immediate impact. Twin guards Dakota and Dylan Gonzalez – their mother Angie Snider was honorable mention All-American at KU in 1984 - are getting plenty of attention. Guard Keyla Morgan, forward Jada Brown and forward Caelynn Manning-Allen round out the rookie class.
“I've always enjoyed coaching freshmen and this year will be no different with these five kids,” Henrickson said. “These kids are skilled, they have played at a high level in their high school programs and their summer programs.
“I don't know if there has been this much anticipation of returning players stepping into new roles and five freshman stepping onto the floor and being able to make an immediate impact in the program. That makes for a lot of energy, a lot of excitement.”