Bolstered by an overhauled roster and renewed enthusiasm, the Weatherford College Lady Coyotes are set to begin a new season in quest of returning to familiar ground.
Over nearly four decades of being coached by Bob McKinley, the Lady Coyotes and the National Junior College Athletic Association playoffs are as connected as the star on the helmets of the Dallas Cowboys.
However, last season that connection was interrupted as the team missed the regional tournament after a subpar year. McKinley is confident, though, that he's blended the right roster to get his team back to where it is used to being.
"We've got more quality players than we've had in a few years," McKinley said. "They've got a good combination of speed, quickness and a good feel for the game.
"The freshmen we brought in are all really good players."
Freshmen constitute a majority of the roster, nine of 13 in fact. Two sophomores return from last season, 5-foot-10-inch guard/forward Arelis Cora (Brooklyn, NY) and 5-6 guard Caroline Forest (Granbury).
Cora was the team's leading scorer (10.1 points per game) last season, along with averaging 6.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.7 steals.
The other two sophomores on the roster are 5-7 walk-on guard Madi Mayfield (Brock) and 6-foot forward Ugochinyere Nwarie (Mansfield Timberview), a transfer from South Plains College in Levelland.
"She's a tremendous athlete. She runs, jumps, is a great addition," McKinley said of Nwarie.
Tahnia McDaniel (Arlington), a 6-1 guard/forward, is a freshman in eligibility. She transferred from Mississippi Valley State.
"She could be one of the best players we've ever had here," McKinley said. "She is smart instinctively and can play a lot of positions."
McKinley is also excited about his freshmen recruits from overseas, all forward/posts. They are 6-1 Masha Vasilevko (Grodno, Belarus), 6-2 Lydia Friberg (Uppsala, Sweden), and 6-2 Dovile Strimaityte (Palanga, Lithuania).
Strimaityte was coached by the mother of former Lady Coyote and current professional player Gigi Mazionyte. McKinley said she, along with Vasilevko and Friberg, can play a variety of positions and bring a multitude of skills to the program.
"We hit on all three internationals. Sometimes that's a shot in the dark," McKinley said.
Rounding out the freshmen recruits are 5-4 guard Destiney Wakefield (Richland), 5-5 guard Brittany Hall (New Orleans), 5-5 guard Reyna Ammons (Houston Hightower), and 5-7 guard River Romine (Bowie). Destiny Ramos, a 5-4 guard from Houston, is a walk-on.
"They all know why there aren't many sophomores back," McKinley said. "They know everything is up for grabs."
Turnovers were a major problem for the Lady Coyotes last season. McKinley said that was a big focus in recruiting.
"We were looking for speed, quickness and ball handling skills, and we got all of that," he said.
As for teams to beat in the conference this season, McKinley named two-time defending champion Collin College as the favorite, along with McLennan and Ranger looking better and Cisco looking good. Of course, he believes his team will also be back in the playoff mix.
McKinley thinks tradition such as the one his program has established plays a factor in success. The players onboard understand that tradition, he believes.
"They see the banners (in the gym). They know we're not just blowing smoke," he said. "It's a good motivational tool - especially if you care about the game."