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NKU women’s basketball looks to build on late-season momentum, five returning starters in 2019-20

By Don Owen
NKyTribune reporter

For the first 10 games last season, a very young Northern Kentucky University women’s basketball team learned some painful lessons on the court. By the time late December rolled around, the Norse were staring at a 1-9 record — with the lone victory against NCAA Division II member Alderson Broaddus.

Team chemistry was developing, though, and NKU’s two freshmen guards (Ally Niece and Taylor Clos) began playing like battle-tested veterans once the calendar turned to 2019. The Norse eventually jelled and finished with an 11-18 overall record, including a 10-8 mark in the Horizon League.

Fourth-year NKU head coach Camryn Whitaker welcomes back five starters and adds four talented recruits for 2019-20. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

During that second-half turnaround, NKU won eight of its final 11 regular-season games. Fourth-year head coach Camryn Whitaker welcomes back five starters and adds four talented recruits for 2019-20. As the statistics indicate, the Norse were extremely competitive in the Horizon League last season. Now, they need a better beginning.

“We have to improve in the non-conference,” Whitaker said. “We have a really good schedule set up that will help prepare us for the Horizon League. Using the momentum from our finish last season [8-3 in the final 11 regular-season games]. Just picking up where we left off. I think we really have to improve that [1-9] record from the non-conference.”

One of the returning starters is Niece, a sophomore and Simon Kenton High School product who averaged 9.7 points per game last season. Niece also dished out a team-leading 95 assists and was named to the Horizon League’s All-Freshman Team.

In addition, Niece led NKU in Horizon League play with 12.1 points per contest while also averaging 4.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game. She compiled 15 double-digit scoring performances, including two above 20 points.

“Ally, as our starting point guard, is coming off a really successful freshman season, especially in conference play,” Whitaker said. “She is going to be a big key for us.”

Molly Glick is the team’s only senior and averaged 10 points per game. She buried 55 shots from beyond the arc last season and moved into the top five of NKU’s all-time career 3-pointers list.

NKU’s Ally Niece averaged 9.7 points per game last season and was named to the Horizon League’s All-Freshman Team. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

“Her experience is so valuable, just her presence on the floor,” Whitaker said of the fifth-year senior.

Clos, a Campbell County High School graduate, averaged a team-leading 10.1 points per game and drained 52 shots from 3-point range. She also collected 27 steals, which tied Glick for the team lead, and scored in double figures 12 times.

Also returning is junior forward Kailey Coffey, who averaged 7.1 points and a team-leading 8.1 rebounds per game. The hardworking inside performer collected two double-doubles last season, including 15 points and 11 rebounds at No. 3 Louisville. Whitaker expects Coffey to be even better in 2019-20.

“Kailey is being really aggressive this year and working on extending her game and her outside shot,” Whitaker said. “Her ability to play multiple positions in addition to her leadership is a key as well.”

A trio of experienced post players — Emmy Souder (5.8 ppg), Grayson Rose (6.3 ppg) and Jazmyne Geist (3.9 ppg) — will also solidify the NKU inside attack. Junior guard Grace White (1.4 ppg) adds experience in the backcourt.

The newcomers will also contribute this season, according to Whitaker.

“I’m extremely excited about the four [recruits] we added,” she said. “They all bring us something different. I think everybody will be excited to see Carissa Garcia play this year, She is a scoring guard, which helps everybody on the floor, having someone else on the perimeter who can really score.”

Garcia, a freshman from Fort Wayne, Ind., averaged 19.2 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game as a senior at Concordia Lutheran High School. She averaged double figures in scoring all four years at Concordia Lutheran. How good is the 5-foot-7 guard?

NKU’s Kailey Coffey averaged 7.1 points and a team-leading 8.1 rebounds per game. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

“We haven’t even talked about starting lineups yet. So I’m not sure what that’s going to look like exactly,” Whitaker said at media day, “but if we were to start today, Carissa would probably start at a 3 or a 2.”

Whitaker also brought in 5-foot-5 freshman guard Ivy Turner, 5-foot-9 junior college product Janna Lewis and 6-foot-2 freshman Tayah Irvin. She expects each of them to contribute this season.

“Ivy Turner has been a spark and a pleasant surprise for me. I knew she was good, but she brings athleticism and quickness to the point that will help us in different spots with different matchups,” Whitaker said. “Janna Lewis will be able to provide some quality minutes down low. She is one of the strongest players I have ever coached. She’s only about 5-9, but you cannot move her in the paint, and she is a great rebounder.”

Lewis averaged 22.7 points and 11.3 rebounds per game last season at Motlow State Community College in Tennessee. She was also named to the NJCAA All-America second team.

Irvin is from Fishers, Ind., and played at Hamilton Southeastern High School. Irvin’s versatility on defense will make her a valuable member of this season’s team.

“Tayah Irvin is a stretch 3-4 [forward] tweener-type of player,” Whitaker said. “She is always making extra-effort plays, diving for loose balls and rebounding. She can guard 1 through 5, and defend on the perimeter as well as inside.”

NKU plays host to David & Elkins on Oct. 31 in a 7 p.m. exhibition game at BB&T Arena. The Norse begin regular-season play Nov. 6 at Eastern Kentucky. This will mark the first meeting between NKU and Eastern Kentucky since 1983.

Contact Don Owen at don@nkytrib.com and follow him on Twitter at @dontribunesport

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