Last season, UTSA’s women’s basketball team stumbled to a final overall record of 8-21, and 3-12 against Southland Conference opponents. Key players suffered multiple injuries throughout the year, and inexperienced younger players were forced to play more minutes. The ‘Runners also failed to qualify for the Southland Conference Tournament for the first time in 12 seasons, and were unable to defend their 2010-2011 regular season conference championship. Women’s basketball Head Coach Rae Rippetoe-Blair described the 2011-2012 season in one word “disappointing.”
“One by one someone got hurt. All of a sudden, we had all these freshmen stepping up, and we didn’t expect that to happen,” said sophomore shooting guard Kamra King.
This year’s squad has used last year’s terrible experience to motivate them in UTSA’s first and only season in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC).
“It’s something they never want to go through again, and I don’t as a coach.” Said Rippetoe-Blair. “But they are really working hard, and they came in this year with the right frame of mind. We want to win the WAC and move on to the next conference.”
Rippetoe-Blair will depend on the experience of the 10 returning players for a much better record this season. King is one of the returning players that will play a huge role for UTSA. King made a quick impact for the ‘Runners last year, leading the team and the Southland Conference Freshmen in scoring 10.4 points per game, along with 2.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. The Norman, Oklahoma native was more effective against conference opponents, scoring 11.2 points per game, 3.6 rebounds per game and 2.1 assists per game. King shot 34.2 percent from the floor last year.
Another impact player to watch is senior center Whitney Wright. Last season the center had her best year at UTSA averaging six points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game. Wright and the seven other seniors on the team have high expectations for their only season in the WAC.
“We are all really excited to get play in the WAC and possibly win a ring,” said Wright.
Rippetoe-Blair and her coaching staff have emphasized defense and physical conditioning in the pre-season, and the players are seeing the results.
“This is by far the best pre-season I’ve had at UTSA,” said Wright.
“For sure this year we are going to play great defense,” said Rippetoe-Blair. “We have spent a lot of our practices on basic fundamentals and taking pride in our defense. We are going to look really good if we stay healthy.”
The Roadrunners will add four new players to this year’s squad including three freshmen. Three of the newest ‘Runners can play in the back court, giving Rippetoe-Blair much needed depth to her team. The newcomers are junior guard Miki Turner, freshman guard/forward Mathilde Hergott, freshman guard/forward Niaga Mitchell-Cole and freshman forward Akunna Elonu.
Mitchell-Cole, a San Antonio native, “will have an immediate impact” according to Rippetoe-Blair. Her high school numbers are proof. In her senior year at Roosevelt High School, Mitchell-Cole averaged 15.1 points, 11.1 rebounds, 5.4 steals, five assists and 3.7 blocks. She was awarded a spot on the All-District 25-A First Team, All-Region IV Team and the “San Antonio Express News”Super Team. The 5’10” guard/forward will also bring some speed to the team as she helped bring back-to-back track and field titles for Roosevelt and represented her school at state competition as a member of the 1600-meter relays.
Freshmen forward Elonu also gives the ‘Runners another explosive weapon to their roster. Elonu was a four-year letter winner at Alief Elsik High School in Houston where she had an impressive basketball career. In her senior year, she averaged 20 points, 12.4 rebounds, 3.8 rebounds, 3.7 steals and 1.3 blocks. Elonu led her basketball team to back-to-back area championships and one regional championship. For all her outstanding accomplishments, Elonu was named the District 18-5A Most Valuable Player in her junior and senior year, and awarded All-Class 5-A honors.
Junior guard Turner comes to UTSA from Blinn College where she averaged 11.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists. In her sophomore campaign, the Houston native was awarded a spot on the All-Region XIV team. Turner was also awarded Blinn’s Don Wilhelm Award for her excellent performance on the basketball court and in the classroom. Turner was a four-year starter at MacArthur High School in Houston where she earned All District 19-5A as a junior and senior. In her senior season she was named the Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year.
All the new pieces to the team have impressed the veteran players and are helping them transition to playing for Rippetoe-Blair.
“Some of them were intimated at first and let them know it’s okay to make mistakes,” said Wright. “They are all going to be great players.”
The ‘Runners also welcome new faces to the coaching staff. New Assistant Coach Deidra Johnson comes to UTSA after spending two seasons as an assistant coach at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia.
“I feel like the future of athletics here is very bright,” said Johnson. “I admire all the success that Coach Rippetoe-Bl
air has had at UTSA and that certainly helped make this an attractive position.”
“There is no doubt in my mind that Deidra will help make our program better as we move forward,” said Rippetoe-Blair.
The 2012-2013 women’s basketball team is reloaded with new talent. According to Wright, fans can expect great things from this team. UTSA fans can witness the newest edition of the Roadrunners in their first home game against McMurry at 4 p.m. in the Convocation Center on Saturday, Nov. 3.