SE: Leave No Doubt: K-State Women Building Off Postseason Run
SE: K-State Women Building Off Postseason Run
Kansas State women’s basketball head coach Jeff Mittie wears it on his wrist. His players intend on bringing it everywhere they go this summer.
After last year’s run to the NCAA Tournament, the program’s first appearance since 2012, the returners have bought into a three-word philosophy to continue the improvement K-State’s seen since Mittie took over more than two years ago.
“Our whole thing this summer is ‘Leave No Doubt,’” K-State senior guard Kindred Wesemann said. “So at the end of this (coming) season, we want to be able to sit in Coach Mittie’s living room and feel really good about where we’re at in the NCAA Tournament and not feel so nervous about it.”
Through the first handful of summer workouts, Mittie has seen a good number of positives.
The team’s pace of play has quickened. The roster, on paper, is much deeper, and the newcomers look to be able to fill some areas of need. Most visible, however, has been the players’ increased confidence.
“That is significant. It’s a significant boost,” Mittie, wearing a black bracelet with the words Leave No Doubt engraved in it, said. “With some teams you worry about that they’ve been getting pats on the back and that will affect them poorly. I haven’t seen that. I’ve seen that make us hungrier. I think they want more. I think there are the pieces here to do more.”
Those new pieces include one junior in Karyla Middlebrook, a guard who transferred in after starting 70 games in two seasons at Alabama.
The rest of K-State’s newcomers – all freshmen – include Lanie Page, sister of teammate Kaylee Page, Eternati Willock, the eighth-ranked forward in her recruiting class by ESPN Hoopgurlz and the first K-State women’s basketball player from Canada, Mercedes Brooks, an athletic guard from Wichita Falls, Texas, and Topeka-native Peyton Williams, a two-sport athlete who will redshirt in volleyball her freshman season.
Put those additions with what K-State returns — nine letterwinners that are highlighted by All-Big 12 First Team selection Breanna Lewis and the Wildcats’ sharpshooter in Wesemann — and the 2016-17 season holds plenty of promise.
“With the group that we have coming back, there’s every opportunity for this team to be one of the best teams we’ve had,” Mittie said. “On paper, and we don’t play it on paper, but this is the deepest roster that I’ve had in a long, long time with the ability to move pieces around. So I hope our fans are excited about that.”
K-State fans can also be excited about the home non-conference schedule the Wildcats hold for the upcoming season, highlighted by a rematch with four-time defending national champion Connecticut.
“I think it’s important for fans, recruits out there to know that we’re going to challenge ourselves in the non-conference,” Mittie said. “From a recruiting standpoint I hope we get some people that haven’t been to our building and see 12,500 (people) in there.”
Kaylee Page said she expects the Dec. 11, matchup against the Huskies in Bramlage Coliseum to increase the excitement level of K-State’s fan base for women’s basketball even more.
“Just to see that we’re playing one of the best teams in the nation means you have to be pushing for something, wanting to be really good,” Page said. “It gives you that standard to where, if you really want to be an elite team, this is where you have to be. So it gives you that extra motivation during a hard workout or an extra sprint, just to think, ‘This is what I’m working toward.’”
K-State will face its fair share of tests before meeting UConn, including a Dec. 2, home game against Auburn, an NCAA Tournament team last season, as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Princeton, after a 23-6 season and bid to the NCAA Tournament, will come to Bramlage on Dec. 18, while K-State will wrap up the non-conference schedule Dec. 22, at Northern Iowa, which advanced to the third round of the WNIT last season.
The Wildcats will also compete in the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands, facing North Carolina State, LSU and UTEP Nov. 24-26.
“I expect to get some big challenges in that tournament, and then we got Auburn,” Mittie said. “So while the UConn game is certainly the highlight of that schedule, we’ve got some early challenges.”
Until those challenges crawl closer, K-State will focus inward. Its main focuses will be to improve the team’s perimeter shooting, rebound better as a group and become more versatile offensively.
With the proper work, K-State should take another step forward in 2016-17 and hopefully fill more and more seats in Bramlage in the process.
“The one thing that I’ve really noticed is the amount of fan support that we have gotten these past years,” Lewis, a senior, said. “I feel like it’s a really different atmosphere in Bramlage, a more inviting and exciting type of atmosphere. That’s been one of the great changes I’ve seen over my years of being here.”
Mittie, who’s been all over Kansas for the annual Catbacker Tour this summer, said he’s seen the importance women’s basketball holds among K-State fans, and he appreciates being on the receiving end of it.
“I appreciate the fact that people care about it here. I appreciate the fact that it matters to our fans, and when we go out on the Catbacker Tour that they care,” he said. “I appreciate the fact that there have been many games where we had 5,000 in (Bramlage) yelling and screaming for me to take a timeout or sub somebody in. I appreciate that it matters to them.”
K-State fans will get the opportunity to interact with the women’s team this Sunday in Bramlage Coliseum from 4-6 p.m.
The event will include: player autographs, face painting, a photo booth and numerous game stations to compete against your favorite player. Willie the Wildcat will be at the event and the first 200 fans will receive a free ice cream sundae. Prizes will also be given out during the event, including courtside seats to the Connecticut game or four tickets to “K-State Day at the K” on Friday, June 24, when the Kansas City Royals host the Houston Astros.
“I’m appreciative that our group here feels strongly enough to put on an event like that to push season tickets and to get our players in front of our fans. I hope we have a good crowd for that,” Mittie said. “It’s on Father’s Day, so hopefully there will be a lot of families who are looking for stuff to do. Our biggest selling point for fan events like that are our players and the way our players interact with our youth basketball players, our season ticket holders is really, really good. We’ve got a good group so hopefully that will be a good event.”