Bri Kulas is one of Missouri’s two senior players.
As the 2013-2014 season gets underway for Missouri’s women’s basketball, there are some big hopes around Mizzou Arena. After last year’s team made postseason play for the first time in many years, Robin Pingeton’s fourth season as head coach appears to be one that could be the “breakthrough” we’ve seen coming for a while.
As we take a look at the roster for this year’s Tiger team, there’s more talent and depth than we’ve seen in a lot of years. But much of it is still with the underclassmen. How fast the youngest Tigers develop will be a major factor in whether this is the year things get serious, or if it’s just another year on the pathway to that eventual breakthrough.
Today I look at the forwards and coaching staff. Tomorrow I’ll wrap up the review with the guards.
00 Darian Saunders, sophomore, 6’1” – After averaging about 9 minutes of playing time last season, Saunders played very sparingly in the two exhibition games this season and spent the first two regular season games on the bench. She’s got skills, especially on defense, and has shown at times to be a player giving a lot of effort. She’s in a spot I’ve seen quite a few sophomores reach over the years, and she could go one of two ways —with all the talent on this team, she’ll either step up her game and become a key part of the Tigers in her final year or two (like Bree Fowler this year, and players like Sydney Crafton in the past) or she may fade away. Here’s hoping it’s the former. Saunders was a shot-blocking machine in high school, and it’d be exciting to see that happening at Missouri.
5 Davionna Holmes, freshman, 6’3” – A transfer from Louisville, where she played both volleyball and hoops, she’ll sit out the season. But the East St. Louis native has an exciting future for MU. You’d expect when you see she’s 6’3” and a former volleyball star that we’re talking about some excellent size and athleticism, but she was also one of the top 3-point shooters in her district in high school. Will be a part of the battle to start at point next season.
Darren Hellwege, Sports Commentator
12 Michelle Hudyn, sophomore, 6’2” – When I first saw Hudyn at the beginning of the 12-13 season, I saw two things. One, as expected from a player with international experience (Canadian Junior Women’s National Team), she’s a very complete player with a real basketball I.Q. Two, she badly needed to gain a little weight. She came in thin and got pushed around low a bit last season. But after a full offseason in the Tigers strength and conditioning program, Hudyn’s physique is better suited to life in the lane in the SEC and she’ll be competing for time more and more as her game develops. Was second on team among returning players in rebounds per minute in Southeastern Conference play last year (I divided the number of minutes by rebounds, Hudyn averaged a rebound every 5.18 minutes, only Morgan Stock’s numbers were better, 4.14) and with improved strength and a year’s experience, Hudyn should be a serious rebounder for Pingeton.
13 Bri Kulas, senior, 6’1”– With just one year as a Tiger under her belt and being, shall we say, not the most talkative player with the press, Kulas is an underrated and under appreciated superstar. An All-SEC level of talent, she brings great skill in every aspect of the game to the floor. Last year’s team leader in scoring and rebounding, she’ll still dive after a loose ball or step in and take a charge. A leader night in and night out, she failed to score at least eight points only five times all last season. She shined in the Tigers’ biggest wins, scoring 20 in the upset of Tennessee and a season-high 26 against South Carolina. The best Missouri has to offer.
15 Tania Jackson, senior, 6’3” – Everyone associated with Missouri women’s basketball is already sick of my asking “How’s Tania?” She’s battling back from injury, and it’s an important question. Because if Jackson is fully healthy, MU becomes a much, much scarier team. She’s a great player in her own right, having three years of experience at Kansas. A big strong presence in the post, she averaged 6.9 points and 6.4 rebounds a game in limited minutes her final year with the Jayhawks. But, there’s an X-factor with Jackson—she has a lot of experience making great players even better, working with All-American Carolyn Davis. Can she develop an on-court relationship like that with Kulas? The two are old friends, and AUU teammates, so I guessing the answer is yes. There are few SEC teams that can stand up to a Kulas-Jackson teaming on either end of the court.
20 Kayla McDowell, freshman, 6’2”– I knew a lot more about the other two freshmen in this year’s incoming class, but was unsure what to expect from this Cincinnati native. So far, she’s been a delightful surprise, leading the team in scoring through two games with 13.5 points a game, pulling down 12 rebounds, and shooting a perfect 7-7 from the free throw line. But it may be her defense that is the biggest contributor. If the theme of this prediction is, “yeah, this year’s team is going to be good, but the future’s even brighter” McDowell is a key reason.
22 Jordan Frericks, freshman, 6’1” – An Illinois All-Stater, bringing in Frericks was a sure sign of how things have changed at Missouri, this is the type of recruit the Tigers used to only dream of getting. And Frericks showed immediately why she was so highly touted coming out of Quincy, earning a starting nod in both games and contributing in every possible way. She leads the team in rebounding and is second in assists, has averaged 7.5 points a game, and plays with maturity beyond her years. She’s a big reason long-time watchers of MU women’s hoops are at a loss to remember a more talented recruiting class.
Coaches — Losing Randy Norton to UAB, where he’s the new head coach, is a loss for the Tigers. When Pingeton brought her entire staff with her from Illinois State four years ago, it said a lot about their commitment to her. The staff has had a lot to do with building success out of the struggling program. Fortunately, the consistency in the coaching ranks hasn’t been dented too much, as Jenny Putnam and Willie Cox return and former Director of Basketball Operations Michael Porter moves up to the remaining assistant coach position. Porter has earned the promotion and the substantial improvement we’ve seen over the last three years with the players who remain at Missouri from the first recruiting class this staff brought in—Fowler and Eye—shows this bunch is not only strong in game day coaching but in the real work of coaching, teaching the game to young women when there aren’t fans in the stands or cameras turned on, day in and day out in the practice gym and meeting rooms. And if you’re not convinced of their recruiting excellence with this year’s outstanding class, wait till you see the players coming to Missouri in the next couple of years. The Tigers already have verbal commitments from some of the nation’s top players for ‘15-16 and ‘16-17.
This could be a very exciting season for Tiger basketball, and with the amount of young talent on the team now and getting plugged in in the next year or two, this program’s going nowhere but up in the years to come.
Tomorrow: Missouri’s guard court.