By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
With 11 new players among a roster of 13, there’s been a lot of teaching during Missouri Southern’s preseason workouts.
But Lions coach Maryann Mitts believes her team has gotten a handle on her system pretty quickly.
“I don’t feel as though we have a gamut of things we have to worry about right now,” Mitts said as she prepares for her 12th season as the Lions’ coach. “Three specific things — we have to take care of the ball, we have to finish our possessions a lot better, and we have to become a more physical basketball team, especially on the defensive end.”
Senior forward Erin Rice and junior guard Shatara Stone are the only holdovers from last season’s 8-18 team — the Lions’ first losing season since five consecutive losing campaigns from 1997-2001.
Rice, 6-foot-2 senior, averaged 14.9 points and 5.3 rebounds to earn third team all-MIAA honors. She reached double figures in 23 of the 26 games and posted three double-doubles. She scored a career-high 30 points as a sophomore against Washburn.
Stone, 5-8 junior, contributed 5.5 points and 4.3 rebounds as a part-time starter. Her best game of the season came in the final week with 19 points and 16 rebounds against Fort Hays State.
Joining them in the starting lineup are Sam Soyez, a transfer from Newman University, and Johnna tenBerge, from North Arkansas, at guards and Shonte Clay, a transfer from Minnesota at center.
Soyez helped Newman win two regular-season and one postseason tournament championships in the Heartland Conference. TenBerge is coming off offseason knee surgery, and Clay played in only 11 games during the last two seasons for the Golden Gophers. But she scored 49 points in a high school playoff game in Chicago and had 34 points and 27 rebounds in a triple-overtime victory.
“We feel like we have a great three-man rotation in the post with Shonte, Dominique Mosley and Erin Rice,” Mitts said. “And we’re able to pull in a freshman, Kristin Hanna, who is playing very well.
“We feel we have a four-man rotation in our 2-3 slots, and we have a solid three-man rotation at the point. So our depth is so much better than it’s been in the past.”
TenBerge, Stone, Nicole Hartzog and Jolee Sharp will share minutes at the shooting guard and small forward positions. Tee Singleton and Kori Dodson join Soyez at the point guard.
“We have so many more weapons than Erin Rice and Shatara Stone,” Mitts said. “Are they big components? Absolutely, because they are the ones with experience. They should carry the load, but this team can share the wealth. We can share the shots. I feel that we have the 3-point shooters that we need. We have the post game that we need. This team is far more athletic than last year’s group. I’m excited to move past last year finally. I don’t think you ever move past it until you finally play that first game this year.”
The Lions open their season this weekend in the Pittsburg State Tipoff Classic, facing Mary (N.D.), an NCAA Tournament team last season, at 1 p.m. today and Southwest Minnesota State on Saturday at 1.
“We need to learn to value every possession,” Mitts said. “That’s the only thing that I really feel we’re not grasping quite yet. … The turnovers we’re having are self-inflicted. They are poor decisions, and that goes with having so many new players. It’s one thing to get to know each other in a pickup game in the offseason, but to really put a system into play where everybody has rules and principles and laws to live by, that’s when it gets a little tricky at first. Now it’s just time to play games. This group needs game experience, and we need game after game after game after game so we can start to take that next step.”