By RICK PETERSON
Washburn University's women's basketball team posted an uncharacteristic 11-17 record last season while being stung by six losses of seven or fewer points, including 1 and 2-point defeats.
And while the Ichadods lost several key players off that team, including their No. 2, 3 and 4 scorers, former WU standout Lora Westling is confident her team is poised to make some major steps forward in her second year at the helm of the Ichabods.
Washburn will have to replace the trio of Natalia Figueroa, Macy Doebele and Emma Chapman, who combined for 23.8 points and 11.9 rebounds in 2022-2023, but Aubrey Dewey returns to lead the Ichabods' returning cast, along with fellow seniors Mackenzie Gamble and Lakyn Shieferecke and sophomore standouts Gabi Giovannetti and Yibari Nwidadah.
Doebele and Chapman were classified as seniors last season, while Figueroa, who hails from Madrid, Spain, notified Westling the week before the start of the fall semester that she would not be returning to Washburn after a strong freshman campaign (8.2 points per game, 42 3-pointers).
But Westling said the Ichabods, who began practice on Oct. 6, have taken those personnel losses in stride and have impressive in early preparations for their Nov. 10 season-opener against Southwestern Oklahoma State in Shawnee, Okla.
"We really pride outselves on resiliency as a program and one of our core values is grit and I think if you're around college athletics enough you can never know what the next day is going to bring, good or bad,'' Westling said. "And in this situation, I'm just really excited about our players who have stepped up and some of our young players who are ready to step in and be that next woman up. We really haven't missed a beat.''
Dewey, a 5-foot-7 point guard out of Plainville, led Washburn with a 10.7 scoring average a year ago while also dishing out 110 assists and recording 34 steals.
Gamble (5-7 guard) and Shieferecke (5-10 guard) have also played major minutes for the Ichabods and Westling is looking to the senior trio to set the tone for the still-young Ichabods.
"Mackenzie is finally healthy, knock on wood,'' Westling said. "She's feeling good and we're expecting big things from her. Lakyn is just our Swiss Army Knife. and then you tie them in with Aubree Dewey, who we know is going to be a standout. Those three as a senior leadership team are pretty great.
"We love to have those guys forging the way for this program and our sophomores, who played a lot last year, are taking all the steps in the right direction we wanted them to.''
The sophomore group includes former Bishop Miege standout Giovannetti (7.7 points per game, 37 3-pointers) and 6-2 Olathe North product Nwidadah (team-leading 5.8 rebounds per game) along with guard Amaya Davison, who also saw playing time as a freshman.
"Those guys are really doing what we're asking them to do and then we have Aniyah Wayne (5-8 guard), a transfer from Northern Colorado, that we think will do some nice things for our program and we've got the seven freshmen,'' Westling said.
Westling said all of the newcomers will get the opportunity to challenge for playing time this season.
"They depth chart's wide open for them to find themselves in there right now and we're having competitive practices,'' she said. "We're asking them to come to the table ready to go and right now we're trying to do what you normally do with freshman, which is kind of re-engineer their habits, re-engineer their mindsets and get them to start doing the little things right on a day-to-day basis and we're just going to see who does that the fastest.
"We've got some kids with tremendous upside who I think are going to make big impacts in the league.''
Washburn, which was picked eighth in the MIAA by the coaches and 10th by the media, begins the season with 13 players on its roster, a number Westling is comfortable with.
."It just depends on the makeup of your roster,'' she said. "I think for us this year, this is a great number because every rep, everything is focused. It's just a matter of how healthy you stay. If you stay healthy it's a perfect number. If you don't, then you're mad at yourself for not bringing in more.''
Westling said the key for the Ichabods is to make steady improvement while trying to turn at least some of last year's close losses into victories.
"Statistically we've got to be better,'' Westling said. "We've got to take care of the ball better, we've got to score the ball better and I think we have some facilitators to do that.
:"It was so many close games that we left on the table last that kept us out of Kansas City (for the MIAA Tournament) last year, so we're trying to make some of those small adjustments and hopefully incrementally they add up to a few more wins.''
Washburn will play its home-opener on Nov. 21 against William Jewell.