EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – With eight players on the 2013-14 SIUE women's basketball roster who are either freshman or sophomores, SIUE Head Coach Paula Buscher knows it will take time for everyone to get adjusted.
"You're going to see such a growth spurt from the freshmen," said Buscher. "Everyone improves in different cycles at different times. We're taking those gradual steps. It's still about blending the new players with the returners and continuing to improve every day."
Step one is the team's season opener Nov. 10 at Missouri. The Cougars also travel to Lawrence, Kan., to take on Kansas in a Nov. 13 contest.
For a program that won its first Ohio Valley Conference Tournament game last season and finished with a 16-15 record, Buscher and her coaching staff are building their team day by day, practice by practice, and game by game.
"We're going to keep stepping up and hopefully by the time we start conference play, we've hit our stride," she said. "I think we have the potential to be a very good team."
Buscher introduced her squad at Cougar Madness Oct. 24th by splitting the team into two groups – those with injuries and those without. One side, unfortunately, had more than the other.
The injuries have presented challenges for the Cougars, but silver linings do appear.
"Our freshmen have received more repetitions in practice than normal," said Buscher. "We've been able to work with our younger players and spend more time showing them what we expect."
SIUE's freshmen Katelynn Martinez (Champaign, Ill.), Micah Jones (Cowden, Ill.), Alexis Chappelle (St. Louis, Mo.), Miranda Brandt (Chamois, Mo.), and Syerra Cunningham (Beach Park, Ill.) will have to mix quickly with the returning group of players.
"Katelynn is a playmaker who will get the ball where it needs to be and can knock down open shots," said Buscher. Martinez, a 5-foot, 6-inch guard, was a second team All-State selection last season and scored 1,183 points for Champaign Centennial High School.
Jones, a 6-1 forward, was a three-time All-State pick for Cowden-Herrick High School who possesses the talent to play in the paint as well as the perimeter. "She finds a way to score and has a knack for finding the ball off the rim which will allow her to be a great rebounder," Buscher said.
Chappelle, a 5-6 guard, was a first team All-State selection last season at Hazelwood Central High School.
"She is one of those freshmen who is getting better and better as she understands what we expect from her," said Buscher. "What I like about Alexis is that she can play the 1 or 2 guard position, penetrate the lane, and also can knock down the three-point shot."
Brandt, a 5-11 guard, was a first team All-State selection at Osage County R-1 High School. "Miranda is a tough player. She can play inside and out and will be a difficult matchup for opponents. She is so competitive and plays hard on both ends of the floor," Buscher said.
Cunningham, a 6-2 post player, helped Zion Benton High School to a regional title last season. "Syerra can play very well with her back to the basket and also has good range on her jump shot," Buscher said.
"Valerie is a steady player," Buscher said. "She absolutely plays this game all out and is very intense. Valerie is going to give us everything she has when she steps out on the floor. She raises the level of our other perimeter players."
Hill is No. 2 on the all-time three-pointer list with 174 in 89 games played. "She is able to open up defenses with her three-point ability," Buscher said.
Every coach wants to have options. For Buscher, that player is junior Tierny Austin (Rockford, Ill). A preseason All-Ohio Valley Conference selection, Austin is SIUE's top returning scorer at 11.4 points per game.
"She has worked hard on her perimeter shot over the summer," Buscher said. "Tierny can put the ball on the floor and drive. She can hit the three, is one of our best rebounders, and is one of our best defensive players," said Buscher.
"When Ashley came into the game last year, she was our energy player," Buscher said. "Ashley just makes things happen."
Decker has been battling injuries for more than two seasons, having appeared in five games during the 2011-12 season and 14 in the 2012-13 season. "She's a calming force for us out there. She's that glue that keeps everyone together and communicates very well," Buscher noted.
Buscher will be looking to sophomore point guard CoCo Moore (Indianapolis, Ind.) as a force in the backcourt. A member of the OVC All-Newcomer team last season, Moore was named the OVC Freshman of the Week three times. Her 8.7 points per game was third on the squad last season.
"CoCo came back stronger this season," Buscher said, "which will allow her to be more consistent on a daily basis. She is an exciting player to watch, and we will be looking for Coco to take it to another level.
Another sophomore, Jessie Wendt, earned one OVC Freshman of the Week honor last season. Wendt saved one of her best performances for late last season when she scored 24 points to lift the Cougars to victory over Tennessee State. "Jessie can flat out shoot the ball. She has worked extremely hard on improving her game. Jessie has a good basketball IQ, and she won't back down from a challenge which is the type of people you want to surround yourself with."
Redshirt sophomore Raven Warford, a 6-4 center, also has been much improved, noted Buscher. "She is more confident and has the ability to play with her back to the basket and be a shot blocker. She can really help our defense by being a dominant defender in the paint."