Head Coach Zenarae Antoine and the Texas State women’s basketball team have taken the court again in preparation for the upcoming season.
After finishing 13-17 (6-12 Sun Belt) and suffering a first-round exit to UT Arlington in the 2019 Sun Belt Conference Tournament, Antoine is looking forward to seeing what this year’s team can accomplish.
With the ongoing pandemic, adjustments must be made throughout the season. Players may miss time due to COVID-19 protocols, and Antoine is preparing to ensure every athlete on her roster is ready to go on game day.
“You don't know necessarily know what is going to be thrown at your program; the other school's program or just locally [and] statewide,” Antoine said. “For me, the most important thing I do is doing what is comfortable for them. Most of them have been playing basketball from a young age; [I am] making sure that we train and that we have confidence in each other.
As of now, the Bobcats are focusing on defense and conditioning. Antoine says that because the team is young, it needed to put strategy aside for now and focus on fundamentals and mentally preparing for the season. To do so, the team is dialing in on three crucial skills: Defense, rebounding and ball handling.
Sophomore forward Chelsea Johnson trusts her coach’s system and is buying in during these early practices.
"[Antoine] has really preached about going hard in drills so that we don't have to do extra conditioning," Johnson said. "The harder you go in the drill, the more conditioned you'll be, and that's what we've been pushing for."
During practice, the athletes participated in many drills honing in on the basics of defensive basketball. The guards and forwards were separated to work their positional skills.
For guards, this included playing half-court defense, boxing out from outside the lane, defensive rotation and forcing bad shots. For forwards, this included rebounding-heavy drills, defensive closeouts and wall ups along the baseline.
“We were gone for so long you know; we're getting back into basketball shape," said Kennedy Taylor, junior point guard. "I think our coaches have done a great job of getting us back to where we need to be.”
Once the Bobcats get the basics down they will then be able to focus on the finer details of basketball, such as shooting, offensive plays and in-game scenarios.
"Everybody knows I am a ball screen coach,” Antoine said. “So from the beginning, our athletes have been working a lot on that. Defensively, outside of the three players who played [a lot of] minutes, everything is brand new for them.”
Last season, the Bobcats had a young core with eight underclassmen and only four upperclassmen. The younger players from last season will have to step up and take on more responsibility this year.
After a breakout season in 2019-20, Taylor will be one of those players looking to take the next step.
“Being a junior and being the point guard, everyone kind of looks to me,” Taylor said. “So I do feel like I have to take on a big leadership role... I think we have a more veteran team now, and I think we know what is expected of us. We just have to go out there and do it.”
Taylor played over a thousand minutes (35.7 per game), shot 33% from the field and led the team and conference in assists per game (169, 5.8 per game) last season. She also was fifth in steals (55, 1.9 per game) and second in minutes (1,034) in the Sun Belt.
Also leading the team this year will be junior forward Da’Nasia Hood. Hood was ninth in scoring in the Sun Belt, led all Bobcats with 13.6 points per game and had a team-high 189 total rebounds for the season. Hood also ranked fourth in the conference in three-pointers made (58, 1.9 per game) and 13th in minutes played (961, 32.0 per game).
On Nov. 4, the Sun Belt named Hood to the Preseason All-Conference Second Team. This is the first preseason award for the Bobcats since the 2018-19 season.
"Da'Nasia truly made a significant leap from her freshman to sophomore year as she is not only a premier shooter in the Sun Belt, but she can legitimately score in all three layers," Antoine said. "Her hard work on and off the floor has led to this preseason accolade, and I am proud of her. We are excited for the 'next step' in her Bobcat career this season."
Additionally, the team also has brought on freshman guards Presley Bennett and Sierra Dickson, freshman forward Nicole Leff, redshirt-junior transfer guard Tianna Eaton and graduate student transfer guard/forward Gabby Standifer.
Texas State ended its 2019 season tenth in the Sun Belt. The Bobcats were second in assists (13.87), turnover margin (+3.00) and assist/turnover ratio (1.0) per game. The team was seventh in field goal percentage (.383) and finished fourth in steals (8.2) per game.
After a Sun Belt schedule update Oct. 29, conference games for men's and women's basketball will now begin on New Year's Day. To reduce travel as much as possible during the pandemic, teams will only play divisional teams during the regular season and will play the same team on consecutive days (Fridays and Saturdays). Each team will play every team in its division four times, twice at home and twice away.
The women's and men's Sun Belt Conference Championship Tournament will be held March 5-8 in Pensacola, Florida, at the Pensacola Bay Center and Pensacola State College. All 12 teams will participate in the tournament.
The Bobcats will begin their season against the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns.