Fresh off a Mid-American Conference West Division championship and Women's NIT appearance, the University of Toledo women's basketball team returned to the floor at Savage Arena Monday for its first team practice of the 2010-11 season.
The Rockets are in the process of blending seven new faces into their lineup after the graduation of three players — Allie Clifton, Lisa Johnson, and Tanika Mays — and departures of three more.
Larrita Gipson and Clare Aubry opted to transfer out of the program in the offseason, with Gipson landing at Missouri Southern and Aubry at the University of Findlay, and Ashlee Barrett's chronic knee injuries ended her playing career.
That necessitated a wild offseason of recruiting for coach Tricia Cullop and her assistants, and plenty of time for instruction Monday.
“They're very eager to please and they're a great group to work with,” Cullop said. “I think they make us better, competition-wise, and I think our practices are really going to be fierce because we have a lot of kids who can challenge for playing time.”
Joining the fray are former Detroit Southeastern High teammates Janelle Reed-Lewis and Mariah Carson, former Cowley College teammates Anna Sonka and Kaneesha Lee, Owens Community College transfer Sarah Clark, Illinois transfer and former Central Catholic standout Brianna Jones, and Akron transfer Kyle Baumgartner, who is paying her own way.
Jones and Baumgartner will have to sit out this season per NCAA transfer rules.
“We have some great possibilities,” Cullop said. “I'm not set on anything yet. It'll be exciting to see how things develop and what the competition brings out in us. I love letting them duke it out and seeing who will be standing there in the end.”
Seniors Jessica Williams and Melissa Goodall and junior Courtney Ingersoll were recently named team captains, and they'll be counted on to bring the younger players along.
“We have a great group of people that came in this year,” Williams said. “We already started developing a good chemistry during our summer workouts and we're going to continue to grow as the season goes on.”
After posting 10.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per game last season at Cowley, Lee said it's been an easy transition for her at Toledo, for the most part.
“Individual [workouts] were really tough. It was really tiring but it helped me a lot,” Lee said. “Coming from a [junior college], I feel like I'm expected to play a big part right now. That's my main focus — getting up to speed with the other players.”
The Rockets open their season Nov. 12 at home against St. Francis (Pa.) in the Preseason WNIT, which is what allowed UT to start practicing a little earlier than normal this year.
“We're really pumped for this season, especially for the [Preseason] WNIT,” Williams said. “We're really grateful to be playing in that.”
— Zach Silka