Shawn Gilbert has a lot of options this season.
The Midland University women’s basketball coach has a number of players who can play various positions for the Warriors, who open their season at 5 Saturday night at Kansas Wesleyan.
“I think this is the probably the most depth we’ve ever had which will really help us out,” Gilbert said. “Plus, we are very versatile in the things we can do. I think those are two things that make me excited about this group.”
The Warriors lost two starters from last year’s starting lineup, including leading scorer and rebounder Maddie Egr and guard Maddie Severson. Three starters return, including senior guards Amanda Hansen and Maddie Meadows and forward Makenna Sullivan. Also back are three other players who played in all 29 games during the Warriors’ 15-14 season — Fremont High School graduate Sam Shepard, West Point native Lexis Haase and center Katy Gathje.
“We have a lot of experience there,” Gilbert said. “But we’re also blending that experience with some youth. There are going to be some young kids playing for us. There are always going to be a few growing pains, but our leadership has been good and the returning players are better than they were last year.”
Hansen, a 5-foot-7 guard, was second to Egr in scoring with 11.8 points per game.
“She has worked harder to become a better shooter,” Gilbert said. “Last year outside of 15 feet she could shoot it, but wasn’t dangerous. She’s worked at it and I think she’ll be a little harder to guard this season.”
Meadows, a 5-11 senior from Gretna, averaged 4.7 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. She was second on the team in assists with 58. Sullivan, a 5-11 junior from Lincoln, contributed 5.7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.
“Makenna has become better at both ends of the floor,” Gilbert said. “She is so athletic and long and I feel like she has become stronger over the summer. She can be a nightmare on defense. We rely on her to do some things in our full-court pressure — rebounding and attacking — and we’ve also put in some things to take advantage of other things she does well.”
The 5-9 Haase averaged 8.9 points per game as a freshman last winter. Her 37 3-point field goals trailed only Meadows (38) on the team. Gathje averaged 4.5 points and 3 rebounds per game while Shepard contributed 5.2 points and 1.3 rebounds per contest.
“The thing we like about Sam is that she runs so well and in our transition game she can be vital because she can attack the basket, but can also spot-up and shoot it,” Gilbert said. “She has gotten better and will be in our rotation.”
That rotation is expected to be at least 10 players deep and could be more. Freshman Lexi Kraft, a 5-4 Millard North graduate, is slated to start at point guard.
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“She has been a great addition for us,” Gilbert said.
Erin Prusa, a 6-1 post player from Howells, has also made a good impression in her first collegiate preseason.
“We have been happy with her maturity through the fall,” Gilbert said. “She’ll see minutes.”
Emma Shepard, Sam’s sister, also begins her first season with the Warriors after a standout career at Fremont High.
“Emma will come off the bench for us,” he said. “She is physically ready to play at the college level.”
Other players who could make an impact include sophomore guard Casey Thompson, senior guard Jada Simpson and 5-11 senior Laura Speer.
“Laura hasn’t played a lot for us, but she is a vocal leader,” Gilbert said. “She works hard and has done it the right way. The kids respect her.”
Midland was picked to finish seventh in a Great Plains Athletic Conference coaches’ poll recently. Concordia is favored to win the league, followed by Dordt and Dakota Wesleyan.
“I thought the preseason poll puts us where I thought we’d be,” Gilbert said. “We lost a couple of key contributors and there are some questions (in the league) about how good we can be. I think the GPAC, from top to bottom, is as solid as it has been since I’ve been here. There will be no easy games and it will be a battle every Wednesday and Saturday.”
The Warriors also don’t have an easy opener. Kansas Wesleyan finished 21-12 last season and made an appearance in the NAIA Tournament.
“It will be a really good test for us,” Gilbert said. “I’m looking forward to it. If we compete and learn and grow from the experience, we’ll be all right.”