Once-undersized Wildcats add a trio of big posts

By Joshua Kinder

Reinforcements have arrived.

The vertically challenged days are behind the Kansas State women’s basketball team with the arrival of three new posts this season, all of which are the tallest players the Wildcats have had on their roster in almost nine years.

K-State finished last season 19-18 overall and made it to the WNIT semifinals — with nobody taller than 5-foot-11 Chantay Caron and Heidi Brown for the last 16 games of the season.

Due to numerous injuries, K-State was forced to go with a smaller lineup down the stretch, making it virtually impossible to defend the post and wage any real threat offensively inside.

One might think its Christmas in the women’s basketball program with the added size down low. And if that’s the case, K-State junior guard Haley Texada can’t wait to open the presents.

“It’s so much better — I love it,” she said this week. “I used to look inside and see kids my size. Now it’s an opportunity for us to get more easy baskets, inside and out — it’s a threat we didn’t have last year at all. Having that size gives us options, especially if the perimeter game is off some night or vice versa. We’re more balanced for sure.”

Olathe freshman Jessica Sheble and Tampa, Fla., freshman Erica Young both check in at 6-3. And then there’s 6-5 Milwaukee freshman Breanna Lewis — the tallest Wildcat since Nicole Ohlde and tied for the second-tallest player in school history.

“We’re still trying to figure out exactly what style of play we’re going to bring to the floor,” K-State coach Deb Patterson said. “You can be sure that we’re going to get a lot more post touches, a lot of high-low action, trying to isolate our posts a significant amount, which obviously we didn’t do a year ago, and take a little bit of pressure off of the perimeter players.

“It’s great to take some pressure off of them, by having some of those big lanky, long, post players ready to catch and to take up space.”

In addition to the three newcomers, the Wildcats will also welcome 6-1 senior Katya Leick and 6-2 senior Ashlynn Knoll back into the fold. Leick joins the Wildcats after missing the last two seasons — one when she sat out following her transfer from Nebraska and then last year after suffering a season-ending ACL injury during camp. Knoll, who was another casualty a year ago after going down with an ACL tear last January, won’t be completely cleared to play for a while longer.

With Caron as well, the Wildcats look to have a solid four- or five-person rotation in the low post, complementing a diverse group of guards led by Texada, Bri Craig, Kelly Thomson and incoming freshmen Kindred Wesemann and Leti Romero.

Patterson said the big freshman — Lewis, Young and Sheble — all have the capability to impact this team right away, and in time, become complete players.

“I think they’re all going to be able to impact us, over time, in a broad-based way,” she said. “They’re not going to have to be specialists.

“What you have to remember is that they feel like they don’t know anything, but physically, they’re all going to be able to contribute right away. I believe all three will play minutes. I don’t think any one of those three will not get an opportunity to get in and impact the game.”

Lewis led Milwaukee’s Riverside High to a state title last season, averaging 15.5 points, 12.8 rebounds and 3.2 blocks a game as a senior.

“Bre is going to be a tremendous defender for us, a shot blocker, and she’s going to be able to score the ball,” Patterson said. “It’ll take some time, but she’s going to do all of those things.

“Defensively, she’s still got a ton to learn. She plays real skinny and tall still. Offensively, she’s a very young freshman with respect to the competitive experience.”

Lewis said it was a pretty easy decision choosing the Wildcats. After all, what team needed size more than K-State?

“Their lack of size was a big part of me coming here because I knew I wanted to be part of a team that I could help out and not just sit on the bench,” said Lewis, who had a career-high 33 points and 24 rebounds in a single game her junior season. “I wanted to help quickly.

“There were other schools involved, but K-State was there the most, really recruiting and interacting with me. I knew they really wanted me, and when I came on my visit I really loved it. Everyone was genuine and I loved the environment.”

But the adjustment to the college game hasn’t been easy for Lewis.

“The adjustment has been really hard, but each day it gets better,” Lewis said. “Each day you learn how to adapt coming from high school to college. It’s a big change.

“The hardest part is the intensity and seeing how hard you have to work. You watch TV and say, ‘I want to be like them,’ but the amount of work, time and effort you put into it is so much different than you expect.”

Young might be the most advanced of the three new bigs after playing in a more competitive AAU circuit out of Florida. Ranked as the 70th-best forward nationally by ESPN HoopGurlz, Young averaged better than 19 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks a game as a senior at Tampa Bay Tech High.

“She’s strong, super athletic and explosive,” Patterson said of Young. “And she’s going to be a great defender. She runs the floor and will able to go get us layups — she has great speed. She plays very hard in the lane, so once she establishes some good, strong offensive moves, she’s going to become a good scorer.”

Patterson likens Sheble’s game to that of former Wildcat Ashley Sweat, without quite as much range as K-State’s fourth-all-time leading scorer. Sheble — a two-time all-state selection at Olathe North — averaged 12 points and 9.1 rebounds a game and shot 49 percent from the field as a senior.

“Jessica doesn’t have the 3 that Ashley had, but sort of that movement and that long game that surprises you every now and then,” Patterson said. “She’s going to end up being a really good offensive talent who can do a great variety of things for us. Defensively, she’s long enough that she should be able to keep people in front in front of her as well.”

The new-look Wildcats will open their season with a pair of exhibition games, beginning Monday, Oct. 28, against Washburn at 7 p.m. K-State’s final exhibition will be against Alaska-Anchorage on Nov. 1, before opening the regular season at home on Friday, Nov. 8 against Tennessee Tech at 5:45 p.m.s fourth-all-time leading scorer. Sheble — a two-time all-state selection at Olathe North — averaged 12 points and 9.1 rebounds a game and shot 49 percent from the field as a senior.

s fourth-all-time leading scorer. Sheble — a two-time all-state selection at Olathe North — averaged 12 points and 9.1 rebounds a game and shot 49 percent from the field as a senior.

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