February 22, 2014
By Kelly McHugh
The K-State women's basketball team (10-15, 4-10 Big 12) returns home to Bramlage Coliseum this afternoon to take on the No. 13/14 West Virginia Mountaineers (23-3, 12-2) at 3 p.m.
While the last time the two teams met up K-State fell 84-44 in Morgantown, W.Va., there's been something about playing on their home court that has really caused the Wildcats to step up this season in games played at Bramlage Coliseum.
Earlier this year, the young team beat then No. 13/11 Iowa State, 80-74, at home and then, a few games later, it snapped its 13-game losing streak to Oklahoma and beat the Sooners 86-78 in Bramlage. K-State held a solid Texas team to a close game at home last week (the Wildcats lost 69-63) and beat Texas Tech, 72-65, last Saturday. So this afternoon, there's no doubt that the Wildcats will bring that same home court energy.
Much of that energy, though, can be credited to the Wildcats' five true freshmen.
Perhaps the story of the season for K-State, the group of freshmen has been led by point guard Leti Romero, a native of Las Palmas, Spain. Romero has garnered three Big 12 Freshman of the Week honors and leads her team in scoring averaging 14.2 points per game, in rebounding averaging 5.6 rebounds per game, in steals with 45 this season, in assists with 116 and in minutes as she has averaged 31.3 minutes per game.
"I'm just ecstatic about her progress thinking about the fact that she's so young in the American game right now," head coach Deb Patterson said. "Her upside continues to be tremendous. As we continue to recruit great players around her and watch her teammates step up and step on the floor and make the shots they're capable of making, we've become better instantly."
Along with Romero, stepping up on the court in her first season is 6-foot-5 forward Bre Lewis. Lewis is coming off of a 14-point game at TCU and, as the season has progressed, so has she.
Lewis leads K-State with 37 blocks this season (eighth-best in the Big 12) and sits just behind Romero as she has averaged 4.5 rebounds per game. While she is averaging 5.6 points per game, Patterson has seen immense growth from Lewis and knows her numbers will only continue to grow.
However, the transition from playing at Riverside High School in Milwaukee, Wis., to playing collegiately at K-State wasn't an easy one for Lewis.
"Bre had never played fast, she had never played in a game where she couldn't pretty much just catch the ball and jog up the floor," Patterson said about Lewis' transition. "The physicality, the speed, the getting pushed, learning how to catch, learning offense, passing angles, you name it, the experienced defenders are plopping more problems on her plate than she even knows."
Also adding height to the Wildcats' roster are 6-foot-3 forwards Jessica Sheble and Erica Young. In the same boat as Lewis, the two are still learning the physicality of the collegiate game. However, both have stepped up since the beginning of Big 12 play, and both provide K-State women's basketball with a bright future.
Sheble is averaging three points and 2.2 rebounds per game while her 10 blocks are second-best behind Lewis while Young is averaging 2.0 points and 2.2 rebounds per game and has seven blocks.
"It's a whole other world for the freshmen," Patterson explained. "It's like if you plopped me in China and asked me to speak the language next week, that's what it feels like for these players that haven't had significant, big-time, fast experience as they transition into the college level."
Finally, the group of freshmen has been tied together by the spunky, outgoing Kindred Wesemann. Though the guard from Pleasant Hill, Mo., is averaging 4.2 points per game, she scored 10 points in the Wildcats' last matchup with West Virginia after she tallied a 14-point performance in K-State's win over Oklahoma on Jan. 29.
Wesemann has proven she can put up big numbers for K-State, now it's just about finding consistency.
"It's exactly what we envisioned: this little playmaker with a lot of spunk, not putting up with any nonsense, cocky, emotional, and that's what we need her to be," laughed Patterson when asked about Wesemann's 14-points against Oklahoma, "but I mean cocky in a positive way. She's really controlled, and playing with an aggressive disposition and a confidence. She's beginning to blossom and become what she is capable of being emotionally."
A team filled with quiet leaders, the energy and excitement Wesemann has brought to the court this season, even from the sidelines, has been a breath of fresh air.
"I've always had the emotion," Wesemann said. "In high school I had it, but it's just gotten more aggressive now that I've gotten into college. I absolutely love bringing that emotion to the court because that's what our team needs sometimes, and if me acting (like) a fool gets them pumped up, then I'll do it."
While at the end of each day the K-State coaches see progress from their group of true freshmen, they are not fully satisfied. They know there is more to the group and are more and more excited every time one of the five scores a point, grabs a rebound or blocks a shot.
"I think the hard part as a coach is you feel good about growth in every player as you watch them develop. You're trying to develop them each individually even as we're trying to get better as a team," explained assistant coach Kamie Ethridge. "Overall, I think these freshmen, as a group, have played a lot more minutes than most freshmen do, but we're not satisfied with that. We really need them to step up and be more solid and give us a chance to win more games down the stretch."
The freshmen know it too, though. They are aware that they are not playing at their full potential yet while at the same time, they know exactly what they're capable of.
"All of us are really trying - Bre, Jess, Leti and Erica - we're trying hard to retain information so we can really bring out the best in our team," said Wesemann. "We're like the fab 5; it's so cool. We used to joke around about that, but it can be a reality if we want it to, we just have to step up and rise to the occasion."
K-State's Jessica Sheble, senior Ashlynn Knoll, Kindred Wesemann and Erica Young celebrate a three pointer against Iowa State at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, Kansas on January 18, 2014. (Scott D. Weaver/K-State Athletics)