By RICK PETERSON
Washburn University women's basketball begins the 2023-24 season and the second year of the Lora Westling era this weekend in Shawnee, Okla. at the Central Region Crossover against Southwestern Oklahoma State and tournament host Oklahoma Baptist.
The Ichabods open their season at 1 p.m. Friday against Southwestern Oklahoma State before facing and Oklahoma Baptist at 6 p.m. on Saturday.
Washburn posted an 11-17 overall record and 7-15 MIAA mark a year ago and will be looking to take a big step forward this season.
"We had a lot of freshmen that played heavy minutes last year and now they're returning with some more experience and that will be great,'' WU senior Lakyn Schieferecke said. "We really just have to put together three or four really good quarters instead of one good quarter, two good quarters.
"Overall, just winning each quarter is kind of our mindset when we step on the floor.''
Washburn, which is opening its 55th season of women's basketball, returns six players from last season's roster, including three players -- seniors Aubree Dewey and Schieferecke and sophomore Gabi Giovannetti -- who started in at least 50 percent of games.
Dewey, who earned All-MIAA honorable mention last season, leads Washburn's returners after starting in all 28 contests and leading the Ichabods in scoring at 10.4 points per game and assists with 3.4 per game.
Schieferecke played in all 28 games and made 18 starts last season, averaging 15.5 minutes per game while averaging 2.1 points and 2.2 rebounds and shooting 78.3 percent from the free throw line.
Giovannetti played in 26 games and started 20 as a freshman, averaging 7.7 points per game and shooting 34.9 percent from 3-point range, while sohomore Yibari Nwidadah returns after coming off the bench all 25 games last season and leading the Ichabods with 5.8 rebounds per game in just 16.3 minutes per contest.
Nwidadah shot a team-high 53.1 percent from the floor and recorded two double-doubles.
Sophomore Amaya Davison also saw considerable action for the Ichabods as a freshman, averaging 14.8 minutes and seeing action in all 28 games off the bench while averaging 3 points a game.
Mackenzie Gamble begins her senior year for Washburn after playing in 18 games with eight starts last season. She averaged 5.1 points with 2.6 rebounds before missing the final 10 games of the season with an injury..
The Ichabods round out their roster with five freshmen and one transfer. The 12 player roster for Washburn is the smallest roster since the 2006-07 roster which also featured 12 players.
Aniah Wayne joins the Ichabods as a sophomore after transferring from Division I Northern Colorado, where she played in nine games and scoed 13 points on 46 percent shooting. Prior to college Wayne played at Omaha Central, Neb.
Incoming freshmen include Emporia's Rebecca Snyder, Baldwin's Karly Neufeld, Nia McKenzie of Aurora, Colo., Liz Boyd of Prospect, Ken. and Madelyn Amekporfor of Andover Central.
Washburn started practice earlier this season due to a change in NCAA regulations and Davison said the Ichabods have benefitted from that but now it's time for a game.
"I feel like all these practices have definitely prepared us and I feel like we definitely needed it,'' Davison said. "Our chemistry is through the roof right now with all the practices we've been having but I'm definitely ready for a game.''
"We really liked the rule change this year but we're competitive, too,'' Westling said. "We want to get out and see what holes we need to fill and where we need to adjust. It's definitely time. You just want to get out there and set the tone for the season.''
Southwestern Oklahoma State went 8-19 overall in 2022-23 and was 8-14 in the GAC last season while Oklahoma Baptist finished 17-13 overall and 12-10 in the GAC a year ago.
Schieferecke said getting the season off to a good start this weekend would put the Ichabods on the right track to a solid campaign.
"That would definitely help our team's confidence and just having that mentality to compete,'' she said.
The Ichabods were picked to finish in eighth place in the MIAA Preseason Coaches poll and were slotted at 10th in the media vote.
Last season Washburn averaged 57.6 points per game and shot 37.4 percent from the floor and 30.4 percent from 3-point range.
The Ichabods held advantages in rebounding and passing over opponents, averaging 36.7 boards and 10.6 assists per game.
Washburn will compete in the Quincy Classic next weekend, facing McKendree University on Nov. 17 and Quincy on Nov. 18.
The Ichabods play in Lee Arena for the first time on Nov. 21 against William Jewell.