By Harper Mayfield | Sports Writer
After returning to practice last week, Baylor women’s basketball released their schedule on Monday, in advance of the start of their 2020-21 season.
The Lady Bears are slated to play 25 games, a departure from the team’s usual 30 game schedule. The shorter season will tip off on Nov. 25 with Baylor hosting Central Arkansas at the Ferrell Center.
Still the defending national champions, the Lady Bears will look to continue competing at a high level despite the changes brought on by COVID-19. But amidst all the changes due to COVID-19 protocol, a return to practice has brought some welcome familiarity.
“We’ve been leaning on basketball a lot, because that’s what we’re used to, that’s what we’re here for, and obviously that big gap in time that we didn’t have it, even just leaning on each other as far as players and coaches and stuff, I missed that,” senior guard Moon Ursin said.
Being back on the court has also allowed the Bears to begin integrating new players into the system. Joining the team this year are freshman center Hannah Gusters, freshman guard Sarah Andrews, grad transfer DiJonai Carrington, as well as transfers Jaden Owens and Kamaria McDaniel. Owens and McDaniel will not see the floor this year, as per NCAA transfer rules.
“Having new players, especially DiJonai, it’s been exciting to play with another person who can get out there and just make you better,” Ursin said. “She has a lot of experience, so it’s fun going up against someone who’s making me better every day.”
Carrington’s time in Waco also drew praise from head coach Kim Mulkey.
“She’s a tremendous player,” Mulkey said. “I think she’ll be a tremendous asset to our program.”
The freshmen have shown out too, proving they can be immediate impact players for the Bears.
“Hannah and Sarah, they’re gonna be great players and I just can’t wait for everybody to see that happen,” said senior guard DiDi Richards.
Some people already expect big things from Baylor’s new faces, as Andrews was named the Big 12 Preseason Freshman of the Year. Baylor swept the Big 12 preseason honors as Andrews was joined by Preseason Player of the Year NaLyssa Smith and Carrington as Preseason Newcomer of the Year.
Expectations on the Baylor women’s team are usually lofty, and this year is no different. However, Ursin said the key to successfully bringing young talent into that winning culture is keeping their heads on straight.
“It’s a new level, it’s new speed and new strengths and things like that, but don’t be afraid,” Ursin said. “These are girls who are very good, coming to play with the best — I mean, we’ve been the best for a long time now — so they can only get better from here.”
This influx of youth is coming at the right time for Baylor, as the Bears lost Lauren Cox, Te’a Cooper and Juicy Landrum to the WNBA after last season. All three of those players leave big shoes to fill, but this year’s group feels up to the challenge. “Everyone is gonna have to step up,” Richards said.
With roster turnover, Mulkey said the team can’t afford to look past the present.
“Let’s live for today,” Mulkey said. “Let’s don’t think about tomorrow, let’s get our work done today … and whatever happens tomorrow happens.”
Central Arkansas comes to Waco to face off with the Lady Bears on Nov. 25 at the Ferrell Center for the inaugural game of the 2020-21 season.