EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – SIUE women's basketball Coach Paula Buscher announced the addition of four newcomers for next season.
Piper Francis is a 5-foot-9-inch shooting guard from Liberty High School in Mountain View, Missouri. She is a three-sport athlete in basketball, volleyball, track and field.
Francis was a Missouri All-State selection last season while averaging 26 points per game and eclipsing the 2,000-point career mark. Over the previous two seasons Piper averaged 27 points per game her sophomore year and 21 points per game her freshman year. During the season last year she scored 47 points in a game while going 9 for 11 from the three-point line.
FROM COACH BUSCHER: "Piper is a multi-sport athlete, which I really like. She has a scorer's mentality and is a very good three-point threat who will provide scoring punch from the perimeter," said Buscher.
FROM LIBERTY COACH ELIJAH ERNST: "Piper is a tremendous athlete. She is the first and only All-State female basketball player at Liberty High School. She currently stands as the all-time leading scorer at our school with a huge senior year yet to play. We are blessed to have seen her game develop and are excited to watch her progress into the collegiate athlete that God has gifted her to be. Go get it Pipe!"
Tori Handley is a 5-10 shooting guard from Jeffersonville High School in Jeffersonville, Indiana.
A solid three-point threat, Handley was honorable mention in the Hoosier Hills Conference while averaging nine points per game.
She played her summer basketball with Team Indiana, who was coached by Greg Burton.
FROM COACH BUSCHER: "Tori is a long athletic guard, who takes pride in locking people down defensively. She has a great three-point range as well as the ability to finish at the rim." said Buscher.
FROM JEFFERSON HIGH SCHOOL COACH MIKE WARREN: "Tori will bring so many high level intangibles to the SIUE program. Her ability to shoot and defend along with being a tireless worker will pay huge dividends in college. Tori has an infectious attitude and an innate ability to lead and motivate her teammates. I am jealous I don't get to coach her for the next four years."
Mikayla Kinnard is a 5-11 power forward from Eastern High School in Louisville, Kentucky.
Kinnard passed the 1,000-point mark last season while receiving All Region, All District and CJ All-Area honors.
She averaged 13.5 points and seven rebounds her junior year.
Kinnard played her summer ball with Indiana Lady Gym Rats Silver EYBL, who are directed by James Banks.
FROM COACH BUSCHER: "Mikayla is a very talented, hard-working player who can score, rebound and pass the ball extremely well. She has good basketball IQ and understands the game which will be a great asset to her on the next level. "
FROM EASTERN COACH JOSH LESLIE: "Mikayla is a wonderful young woman that is now in her fifth year playing in our program. She is a highly-talented individual who can play multiple positions. Mikayla is probably the smartest basketball player I have had the pleasure of coaching. She can play any position and understands all of the aspects of everything we are working to do. With that being said, Mikayla is an even better person than she is a basketball player and will work to do whatever is needed for the team to be successful. I know she will do great and will be a perfect representative of your program."
FROM LADY GYM RATS DIRECTOR JAMES BANKS: "Mikayla Kennard was an integral piece of our top EYBL team that finished in the Final Four at the Nike Nationals. Mikayla's work-ethic, skill set and athleticism will be a great asset to the SIUE program. Mikayla is an outstanding young lady, will be a great teammate and an asset to the Edwardsville community! Y'all are getting a good person as well!"
FROM LADY GYM RATS COACH DANNY RIEGO: "Mikayla is one of those players that will do whatever is asked of her to help her team win. There were games that she led us in scoring, and she often drew our toughest defensive assignments. For us she played and guarded all five positions. She's a winner and a great teammate."
Ajulu Thatha is a 6-1 post player from Decatur Central High School in Indianapolis, Indiana.
She was named a Mid-State All-Conference pick last season as well as an honorable mention All-Marion County selection.
Thatha played her summer basketball with Team Indiana, who was coached by Greg Burton.
FROM COACH BUSCHER: "Ajulu is an athletic post player that is an excellent rebounder. She has a high motor and is has made great improvements each year. She will be a fun player to watch." said Buscher.
FROM DECATUR CENTRAL COACH DARYL GIBBS: "I've been blessed to have watched Ajulu grow and blossom into the player she has become. The signing is testimony to her hard work and dedication. She has earned this honor, and I look forward to seeing her continued excellence in her educational and athletic pursuits over the coming years."
FROM TEAM INDIANA COACH GREG BURTON: "I'm so happy for both Tori and AT. The improvement they have made in the last few years is unbelievable. Tori is an elite defender who can really shoot it. She is an awesome teammate and SIUE is going to love her. AT's entire story is incredible. Everything she's went through, and she still doesn't stop smiling. Her motor on the court doesn't stop either. She does all of the dirty work and has come a long way to develop her game offensively. The sky is the limit for her. Both of them have been a joy to coach, and I can't wait to follow their college basketball careers as Cougars."