With COVID-19 canceling athletic seasons last spring, Texas State women's basketball was one of the teams fortunate enough to finish beforehand. Now, with the 2020-21 season set to begin Nov. 28 against the University of New Orleans, the team is ready to get back to action.
“When quarantine first started, I think it was weird for all athletes,” junior forward Da'Nasia Hood said. “Just not being able to go to the gym how we were and just having a different routine...once we came back in the summer, I think it was really just relieving to finally be back and feel normal again.”
Last season, the Bobcats were 7-4 before beginning conference play 0-8. After Feb. 1, Texas State's improved as it went 6-4 to close the season, finishing 6-12 in conference play.
Entering the conference tournament as the No. 10 seed with a 13-17 overall record, the Bobcats' season ended with a 50-74 first-round loss to the University of Texas at Arlington.
Junior guard Kennedy Taylor says the best way to avoid the pitfalls of last season is to remain focused.
“I think we all know that we don’t want to feel like we did at the end of the season last year,” Taylor said. “So just taking that initiative to go out and try to smash our opponents every time you get on that floor [is important].”
Texas State is ranked No. 11 out of 12 teams in the 2020-21 Sun Belt Preseason Coaches Poll.
“There’s quite a few teams [ranked] above us that we beat last year,” Head Coach Zenarae Antoine said. “If you take a look at the games we lost, the majority of those games were lost within points and minutes of each other, and then that strong finish [to the season]... I think my kids worked hard enough to deserve something better, but if not, we’re gonna move forward.”
Taylor believes that the low ranking will provide an additional incentive to the team.
“[We] definitely have extra motivation,” Taylor said. “It’s really humbling too...They’re putting us at the bottom. Nobody wants to be at the bottom. I think it’s just that we gotta come out and prove ourselves every night...We bring something to the court that nobody else wants to see.”
Although the Bobcats, as a team, performed below its expectations in the 2019-20 season, players, like Hood, made their mark in the Sun Belt. In her sophomore season, Hood led the Bobcats in points, field goals, rebounds, blocks and three-pointers. Her 13.6 points per game were ranked tenth in the Sun Belt while she posted the sixth-best field goal percentage in the conference at .367.
Prior to this season, Hood was selected to the preseason All-Sun Belt Conference Second Team.
Taylor also had a stand-out 2019-20 campaign, leading the Bobcats with 55 steals while posting a Sun Belt-best 170 assists. Antoine was impressed with how Taylor controlled the offense and expects her to improve this year.
“I understand that maybe the season didn’t end the way we wanted it to or didn’t start necessarily the way we wanted it to,” Antoine said. “But at the end of the day, if you take a look at Kennedy’s numbers... [while] we struggled offensively, you found that Kennedy was able to find scorers...that’s a pretty special point guard there who’s now rising as a junior.”
The Bobcats have eight returning players from last season, four of whom are juniors; senior guard Avionne Alexander is the lone senior. Alexander considers herself lucky to have so many juniors on the team to help set an example for the underclassmen.
“It’s been different for sure, but I have [Taylor and Hood] by my side,” Alexander said. “With the junior class being so big, it helps just knowing that you have other people that have experience to help you on the court too.”
The Bobcats' season opener will mark the start of five consecutive road games, something Antoine is not a fan of but realizes is out of the team's control.
"At the end of the day, they would have been in the same place. [Players have told me] 'Coach, I don't care. Let's just go play basketball.' So I'm comfortable with that. Do I like it? No. I don't like it, but are we ready and willing to play? Yeah, we are."