The 2020-2021 college basketball season will be unique, a season unlike any before it. But for the UMHB women’s basketball team, consistency and normalcy remains key.
“We want to be consistent,” said head coach Mark Morefield. “We want our upperclassmen to lead us and then we want our underclassmen to be ready to perform, so at their time, we’re not missing a beat.”
The Cru had perhaps the roughest end to the season of any team on campus in March of this year. Set to play in the sweet sixteen of the NCAA Tournament the following day, the team was on the court finishing practice when the NCAA cancelled the remainder of the tournament. The season finished with a question mark, wondering how far the Crusaders might have made it had the season continued.
Now in 2020, Morefield has the same high expectations for his squad. Covid-19 certainly threw a kink into the way the non-conference schedule was put together, as Morefield had originally expected to take his team to a four-team tournament hosted by Trinity (TX) in San Antonio, and play several other well-known D3 programs. He was forced to pivot, and instead the Cru will play Arlington Baptist, a NCCAA program, UNT Dallas, an NAIA school in its first year of varsity athletics competition, and LeTourneau, a fellow ASC opponent. Headlining the slate is Abilene Christian, a solid D1 program out of the Southland Conference. That game has not yet been officially confirmed but Morefield told True To The Cru Wednesday that the contest is set to be finalized in the coming days.
“I think what is unique about our approaching schedule is that in years past, we would go after strength of schedule,” said Morefield. “We would try to play a St. Thomas Moore or a WashU [Washington University], programs that from a region standpoint, are perennial division 3 programs. We were on track for that again this year. We were going to be down in Trinity’s tournament, where you’re going to get Trinity, which is a good program, and then you’re going to get an out-of-region game, which usually is a good program, like Emory in Atlanta. Our approach for non-conference is ‘We want to have a strong enough strength of schedule where if we do lose the conference tournament, at least we have a strong enough strength of schedule that is going to give us a chance to get an at-large bid.”
The Cru have been successful with that approach under Morefield, reaching the NCAA Tournament in each of the last two seasons, including 2018 in which the Cru picked up an at-large bid after going 25-3.
“I think what it will do is give us strong, quality competition,” said Morefield of the showdown with Abilene Christian. “What the D3 strength of schedule, for lack of better words, process is, is number one, your number one qualifier is your top position against other D3 opponents. That;s going to be tough to do, since we only play one division three [team] in LeTourneau. Then you look at secondary options, which would be an Abilene Christian. You look at Abilene Christian, who should be strong in the Southland, and that should help us in that second area, which is going to be looked at a lot more this year because of the lack of D3 opponents.”
The Cru lost seniors Kendall Rollins, Alecia Blackwell and Hannah Holt to graduation in May, but bring back starters Brooke Elliot and Madison McCoy, as well as a deep bench full of talented underclassmen who logged minutes last season, but will be asked to fill a bigger role this year.
“We have a set of players, who whether they started or were in the rotation, their role has changed as far as returners go,” said Morefield. “Madison McCoy has been more of a facilitator in recent years because of the talent we’ve had but her role is going to change. Brooke Elliot’s role is going to change. Allaria Jones’ role is going to change. And you also have people who were in the rotation last year who are going to see their roles change, such as Bethany McCloud, Alexia Martin, Alexis Benton.”
In addition to McCoy and Elliot in the senior class is grad transfer Taylor Kollmorgan, who comes to Belton after three successful years playing D1 basketball at Houston Baptist University. Having lost three starters after last season, Kollmorgan’s presence in the post will be key, as will her previous college experience.
“The key word is experience,” said Morefield when talking about the impact Kollmorgan will have on this team. “We’re looking for Taylor to bring in an influence in the middle, defensively as a rim protector, help us with our rebounding efficiency and being in there and being a presence. But her experience alone is going to pay huge dividends for our program, especially in a transition year where you lose Hannah Holt, an all-american, Kendall Rollins, an all-conference, so its great because [Kollmorgan] kind of fills that gap.”
Morefield pointed out that a large part of the reason for scheduling non-conference games against smaller, non-D3 opponents was so that his freshmen and sophomores, such as Carrington Jones and Hannah Eggelston, both of whom will see larger roles this season could face opponents in a true game setting.
“You can simulate all you want to in practice, but when the lights come on, and you’re playing someone different, those are the type of reps you want,” said Morefield. “Especially for these players as they transition to more of a permanent role and their role changes, they need those game reps.”
UMHB was also selected as the preseason favorite to claim the ASC West title, and has a favorable conference schedule to finish out the season, playing five of its last six games at home. It will certainly be a welcome change for last year’s slate, which put the Cru on the road for seven of the final nine games.
“I think it is huge,” said Morefield. “Anytime you can have that down the stretch, it’s a huge deal. That happened to us two years ago and it was very beneficial to us. We feel this is a positive to have and something that could play into our favor.”
So despite an unusual season, a brand-new non-conference schedule, and who knows what other unexpected challenges, Morefield is confident his squad, thanks to experienced starters and hard-nosed recruiting efforts, will continue the trend of success this season.
“Our goal is we want to make it as normal as we possible can for our players. Obviously our first and foremost goal is to win conference. We want to make it to the [NCAA] tournament and make a run at a national championship. We want to continue what we’ve been able to do the last three years.”