Fresh starts often are one of life’s most welcome opportunities, and that’s exactly what the SHSU women’s basketball team is experiencing this season. With a new coach and a new attitude, the Lady Kats hope to rebound from last year’s dismal showing, in which they went 7-20 (4-16 SLC) and finished next to last in the Southland Conference.
The Lady Kat team is now run by James “Wooly” Hatchell, formerly an assistant coach at Rice. Since taking over the coaching duties three months ago, Hatchell has busied himself with preparing the team for the season. The main focus of that preparation has been working on the defensive aspects of the game.
Hatchell said that the team’s defensive ability was the first problem he noticed. He said that there was a lack of defensive fundamentals among the players about which something had to be done.
“From what we’ve heard the kids say, just practicing defense represents a change,” Hatchell said. “There are things that we would like to do, but they probably won’t show up until we get to the league. Doing special or fancy stuff only works if you can play basic defense. You can’t get away with doing special stuff to hide your inability to play basic defense.”
The Lady Kats will have to step it up defensively if they hope to be competitive early on in the season. In the first two months of the season, SHSU will play Oklahoma State, Southern Mississippi, Baylor, and LSU, all on the road. The Lady Kats will open the season with seven straight road games. They will not play in Huntsville until Dec. 18, in a game against Houston Baptist, followed by a home game against Hatchell’s former team Rice.
HBU’s head coach is a close personal friend of Hatchell, which should provide for an interesting experience in Hatchell’s first home game as coach of the Lady Kats. Hatchell said that in that game, he and his HBU counterpart will take advantage of the friendly competition and experiment a little bit.
“We’re going to try some stuff that the rest of the world won’t know about,” Hatchell said.
Among the goals Hatchell has set for the season is to make a game against the Lady Kats an unpleasant experience for opponents, regardless of the outcome. “At the end of the year,” Hatchell said, “I’m looking for people to say, ‘Boy, I really do not enjoy playing Sam Houston State. They were irritating to defend, and they really get after you on defense.’ If people in the league are saying that, then I think the wins and losses will speak for themselves.”
The losses will do more speaking than the wins, according to SLC coaches, who picked SHSU to finish last in the conference. Hatchell said he could not gauge how the team will perform in conference play yet because he is not very familiar with the SLC teams. He said that being picked last, while not being unrealistic, gives the Lady Kats more room to exceed expectations than any other Southland team.
“I’m not insulted,” Hatchell said. “I knew what I was getting into when I signed on three months ago.”
One of the things Hatchell has done to try to stay out of that bottom spot is to familiarize his players with playing against teams that are quicker and stronger than them. He has done so by having the Lady Kats practice occasionally against an all-male scout team.
“If everybody in the league is quicker than we are, we’re not going to get better by practicing against slow people,” Hatchell said. “We need to practice against people who are faster and bigger than us.”
Hatchell said he has seen some improvements since taking over that bode well for the upcoming season. The main improvement has been in the general attitude of the players, who have a newfound enthusiasm on the court.
“They don’t say, ‘Oh, my gosh! How does he expect us to do this?’ anymore, they just do it,” Hatchell said.
Hatchell has been pleased with most areas of the team’s progress so far, and how they have adhered to his coaching style. He has few complaints other than the fact that he does not have a set-starting lineup.
“If I’m irritated at anything right now,” Hatchell said, “it’s the fact that really, there’s not a whole lot of people who have stepped up and said, ‘Okay, this spot is mine, and none of y’all are going to come take it in practice.’ I wish somebody would step up, and by performance and consistency, make it clear that she needs to be on the floor most of the time.”
Despite the lack of a clearly defined rotation, Hatchell said a couple of players have taken on more of a leadership role. Senior guards Stacy Allen and Kelley Kramer have asserted themselves as leaders vocally and through their examples of hard work in practice.
Allen, who is returning from season-ending knee surgery last year, is a pre-season All-Southland second team selection. Allen, Kramer, and forward Lee Shea are the only seniors on the team.
The Lady Kats will open the regular season in Denton on Nov. 25 against North Texas. SHSU opens SLC play at home on Jan. 8 against Nicholls State.