Expectations could not be any higher as the Missouri State Lady Bears enter the 2019-20 campaign.
Missouri State comes off its first Sweet 16 appearance since the days of Jackie Stiles and they only lost one senior from last year’s magical NCAA Tournament run.
The Lady Bears also head into the winter season with a new face at the helm for the first time since 2013-14.
Former Michigan State associate head coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton, also known as “Coach Mox,” takes over a team that went 25-12, 16-2 in Missouri Valley Conference play under Kellie Harper last season.
“There’s definitely a lot of pressure,” Agugua-Hamilton said. “Making the Sweet 16 is not easy, and it’s going to take a lot of hard work to repeat that. Our goal is to be competing for conference championships, reaching the NCAA Tournament, getting hot and repeat that and go beyond. It’s been done here many times before. We definitely have the talent to get it done. It’s not a given, but we will be dedicated to it.”
Agugua-Hamilton will have a roster of two seniors, headlined by Alexa Willard who is the team’s leading returning scorer. She averaged 12.3 points per game last season as a junior.
Junior Brice Calip, who averaged 10.1 points per game as a sophomore last year, will also be among the key returnees. Sophomore Jasmine Franklin will look to build off a strong freshman season in which she posted 9.2 points per game.
Juniors Abby Hipp, Emily Gartner and Elle Ruffridge and sophomores Sydney Manning and Sydney Wilson should all see increased time and productivity.
“I think we have a great nucleus,” Agugua-Hamilton said. “We have some freshmen coming in that are highly-talented as well. I look forward to getting in the gym and working on deficiencies and working on strengths to make them better. I think the core group coming back can really wreak havoc in the Valley.”
Calip took a lot away from Missouri State’s postseason run last year.
“I think we definitely learned that we are capable of competing with the best of the best,” Calip said. “We enjoyed the exciting, fun ride and will forever cherish those memories.”
Calip expects the team to learn from the new staff and get accustomed to the new system quickly. She likes what Agugua-Hamilton will bring to the table.
“She should bring some grit and fire to this team,” Calip said. “We will have a similar up-tempo style that we had last season. I think her coaching style will hold the team to higher expectations by challenging us mentally and physically.”
Agugua-Hamilton said she plans on implementing a disciplined transition offense and will have her team primarily play a man-to-man defense with a mixture of zone.
But Agugua-Hamilton’s ultimate goal will be to carry on the tradition Harper left in her final season with the Lady Bears.
“The tradition here is to raise banners,” Agugua-Hamilton said. “We will not waver from that.”