By Ryan Atkinson
Globe Sports Writer
The Pittsburg State women have plenty to look forward to this season.
The Gorillas return three starters and a significant amount of experience from last year’s team that turned in the program’s most successful campaign — a 27-6 record and a trip to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight.
“Last year was a remarkable run and we start out this year with a good core back from that team,” coach Lane Lord said. “But at the same time this is a whole new team. We have to find a way to get this group to gel like we did last year and hopefully we’ll be there by the time conference play comes around.”
Leading the group of returning players is sophomore Lizzy Jeronimus, who as a freshman became Pitt State’s first All-American since Leslie Dudley in 2000. Jeronimus averaged 15.8 points and 6.8 rebounds and was named the MIAA’s Freshman of the Year.
“She got stronger as the year went along and showed what she is capable of,” Lord said of the 5-foot-11 forward. “She got leaner and stronger and faster in the offseason. We’re expecting great things from her.”
Drew Roberts returns for her senior season after starting 32 of Pitt State’s 33 games last season. She averaged 12.5 points while shooting 42 percent from 3-point range and was an honorable mention All-MIAA selection.
“Drew proved last year that she is one of the better players in our league,” Lord said. “We’ll rely a lot on her experience and her shooting and she has improved on the defensive end.”
Alexa Bordewick, a 5-6 junior guard, is the third returning starter. She averaged 7.8 points and was an All-MIAA honorable mention selection. She scored a career-high-tying 16 points in the team’s 61-58 loss to eventual national champion Shaw in the Elite Eight.
She has missed much of the preseason with an ankle injury but will play in this weekend’s Pittsburg State Tipoff Classic.
“Alexa played point guard in all of our games last year and she played a lot as a freshman,” Lord said. “She’s a winner and she’ll continue to lead our team that way.”
Some combination of three sophomores and a senior will likely fill out Pitt State’s starting five.
Senior Lauren Brown, a 6-6 center, will take over for the graduated Larissa Richards. Brown played 10 minutes per game last season, averaging 3.8 points, five rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game.
A pair of local sophomores — Webb City’s Hailey Roderique and St. Paul’s Morgan Westhoff — will challenge for starting roles after having breakout seasons as true freshmen.
Y’Cedria Devers returns as a sophomore after sitting out last season with an injury. She played in 25 games as a true freshman in 2010-11, averaging nine minutes per game.
“Y’Cedria is our best athlete and she looked good in the preseason,” Lord said.
True freshman Kyle Gafford, a 6-2 forward, will likely play a key role off the bench for the Gorillas. Gafford was a three-year starter at Olathe East in the Kansas City area and was an All-State Class 6A selection.
In all, the Gorillas return 10 players who have seen time on the court at some point in the last two seasons.
Now the key is getting this year’s team to mesh the way last year’s did.
“You have to have four- and five-year kids on your team and with our recruiting the last few years we’ve been able to do that,” Lord said. “That helps with experience and leadership. Chemistry is such a vital part of the women’s game.
“Hopefully we can come together as well as we did last year.”