By Spencer Turner
When the team takes to the court Nov. 18 for its opening contest of the 2011-12 campaign, it will boast a roster rich in talent and potential but short in collegiate experience. A total of 11 freshmen join a squad that witnessed five of its members graduate last May.
Amid this new infusion of youth, however, the Lady Cru remain confident as the new season approaches.
“We believe we have a shot at the conference championship,” said seven-year Head Coach Kim Kirkpatrick-Thornton. “We realize they’re lofty, but we work towards the small goals first and build upward. The greatest goal is to learn to play to our potential all the time, no matter who we face.”
Kirkpatrick-Thornton also stressed the team’s desire to earn a berth in the Division III championship tournament in March.
Junior nursing major Brandy Dittert is one of seven starters returning from the previous year’s squad. Sidelined by an injured anterior crucial ligament in the beginning weeks of last season, she is eager for the Lady Cru to put their first-round exit from the American Southwest Conference tournament behind them.
“For the talent we had, it was not the finish we had in mind,” she said. “It wasn’t easy to sit through.”
Dittert expressed the same eagerness to become a team leader.
“I’m an upperclassman, and now it’s my turn to fill the leadership role,” she said. “It’s nerve racking, but I want to be in that position.”
Senior interdisciplinary studies major Miranda Shorter, a four-year veteran of the program, voiced similar excitement in providing guidance to her younger teammates throughout the upcoming season.
“I like being in that role,” she said. “I’ve had good role models before me on the team to look up to.”
Both returning starters understand from firsthand experience the steep learning curve younger members of the team must negotiate.
“You can’t expect freshmen to know what it’s like to play college teams right away,” Shorter said. “They’ll get it, though. We’ve all been there, and we know what it’s like. The biggest key is working together as a team and getting them into our style (of basketball).”
Despite the lineup’s shortage of collective playing time, Dittert and Shorter emphasized the competitiveness and versatility that define the group.
“There’s such a variety of players; everyone can contribute in so many ways,” Dittert said. “Our team has people with the biggest heart for the game.”
Shorter said, “The (freshmen) will be good. All the returners have such confidence in them.”
Kirkpatrick-Thornton praised the diligence, hustle and coachable demeanor exhibited by each player on and off the court.
“This may be one of the most enjoyable teams I’ve coached here,” she said. “Their work ethic and attitude are some of their greatest strengths.”
The Lady Cru expect to encounter stiff competition throughout the season.
Matchups with conference mainstays Howard Payne, Hardin-Simmons, and McMurry loom large on the schedule, while an improved program at Concordia looks to further crowd the road to an ASC title.
“The competition in the conference has gotten stronger every year,” Kirkpatrick-Thornton said.
Dittert insisted this youthful edition of the Lady Cru is ready to accept the challenge.
“We’re young, but we’re a good team,” she said. “We play well together. We have smart girls and we have the talent to compete.”
To see the Women’s Basketball schedule, click here.