Lisa Johnson has followed teammate Yolanda Richardson's career for quite some time.
Johnson and the Northview Wildcats faced Richardson and the Start Spartans back in the 2005-06 season, when Johnson was a senior and Richardson was a freshman.
Now, they face either other a lot more - in practice at the University of Toledo.
The two local products have found a home with the Rockets, with Richardson and three other freshmen joining the team and adding more depth to an already talented roster.
"They're going to give us a deeper bench," Johnson said. "That's huge for us because we have an uptempo style of offense, and it's important to have fresh legs at the end of the game."
After finishing last year with a 18-13 overall record (11-5 Mid-American Conference) under first-year coach Tricia Cullop - UT's first winning season in six years - the Rockets kick off their 2009-10 campaign with an exhibition game at 7 tonight against Ashland at Savage Arena.
UT opens regular-season play Nov. 13 against Northwestern at Savage Arena.
Ashland, a Division II institution, is a member of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The Eagles finished third in the GLIAC South Division a year ago at 17-11 overall,
13-9 in the conference.
"We don't have a lot of time to prepare for Northwestern and we're certainly not going to take Ashland for granted. They're a very good team and they're very well coached," Cullop said. "But the main thing is trying to get our combinations set and see who plays well together. We're still trying to solve that, because we are deep. But we have to make sure when we sub that our combinations continue to lift us to another level instead of having a drought in scoring or having a letdown on defense."
As for what she's seen of her freshmen so far, Cullop said it's been a work in progress getting them to the point where they can make a real contribution to the team.
Cullop said tonight's contest should be another invaluable experience for the Rockets' newcomers.
"It's a process," Cullop said. "Part of an exhibition is teaching our freshmen little nuances that are particular to our team and about the game that are going to be important for them to learn. And even just getting past the nerves. That's what I love about an exhibition."
Other than Richardson, a 6-2 center, other freshmen that could make an immediate impact are 5-9 forward/guard Lecretia Smith and 5-10 guard Riley McCormick. Andola Dortch, a 5-7 point guard, is expected to return in time for conference play as she rehabs a torn ACL.
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