The West Virginia women captured a share of the Big 12 regular-season title last season and are ranked No. 17 in the preseason Associated Press poll, but coach Mike Carey knows his team has work to do heading into the season opener in the Preseason WNIT on Nov. 15.
The Mountaineers return three starters, including preseason Big 12 Player of the Year Bria Holmes, but have five new players who must learn Carey’s defense.
“People are going to be looking at our defense in the beginning of the year saying, ‘What happened?’ because it only takes one to mess it up on the floor, the rotation, not getting up the lane, whatever,” said Carey, the reigning Big 12 Coach of the Year.
In addition to Holmes, a 6-foot-1 junior guard, West Virginia returns senior forward Averee Fields and senior guard Linda Stepney. Although she didn’t start, senior forward Crystal Leary appeared in all 35 games last season, and sophomore center Lanay Montgomery played in 24 games as the backup to Asya Bussie.
Holmes led the team in scoring with 15.2 points per game, but the team’s next three leading scorers — Bussie, Christal Caldwell and Taylor Palmer — graduated, taking with them an average of 35 points
That leaves WVU with three freshmen (one is a redshirt) plus two junior-college transfers, including guard Jessica Morton, who can’t play until the second half of the season. Sophomore guard Bre McDonald, who sat out last year after transferring from Georgia Tech, was dismissed for violating team rules, and junior-college transfer Abigail Asoro left the team.
“It’s a big transition from last year,” Holmes said. “We had a lot of seniors last year and this year, it’s a lot of juniors and freshmen, so we’re coming along slowly. It’s a big transition from high school to college, and the way (Carey’s) system is, it’s up the lane defense, and nobody’s used to playing like that. It’s just something that’s going to take time.”
The Mountaineers held 22 opponents to 60 points or fewer last season, including in 11 of their 18 regular-season Big 12 games. Their average of 59 points allowed was the second lowest in the conference. Offensively, they set a program record with 2,581 points.
Carey said while the focus remains on defense, the team also is trying to teach the importance of taking care of the ball.
“What people don’t understand is because we play so hard on the defensive side, and the intensity and speed are there, that we go on the offensive side and we want to hurry that up because that’s the speed we play on the defensive side,” Carey said. “We’ve got to slow down on offense. Once we get that and quit throwing the ball around … then we’ll be better off.”