We got the first look at this season’s Webster University men’s and women’s basketball teams over the weekend during the Cavallo Classic. Watching the games, a few characteristics popped out at me.
I know it’s early, and some may want to call the small sample-size police on me, but these are trends that could foretell what to expect throughout the season.
For the women’s team, sophomore forward/center Cassie Endicott was an integral part of the team last year, and she was a difference-maker whenever she stepped on the court. Her 6-foot-1-inch frame gave the team a big advantage in the low post in most matchups as she led the team in shooting percentage, rebounds and blocks.
Endicott’s got company this year. Sophomore forward/center Jamie Buehrig (6’2”), along with the freshmen trio of forwards Brittany Harris-Conway (5’10”), Kelsy O’Neill (6’2”) and Kaitlin Kendall (5’11”) give the Gorloks flexibility down low. Their youth bodes well for the future, but they can all be very valuable this year and give the team a look not many of their opponents can match.
The team also looks to benefit from Endicott’s cleaned-up play. As a freshman last season, she led the team in personal fouls and only averaged about 20 minutes of play per game.
She’s played just as aggressively in this young season, if not more, but she looks more composed as well. As a result, her playing time has increased. She can be a dynamic weapon for Webster, but she has to be on the court for that to happen. Her increased discipline early on is a good sign.
Junior guard Kaliann Rikard and junior forward/guard Courtney Pursley are seeing expanded roles this season, and they’re playing up to the challenge. Rikard is an aggressive tempo-setter, leads the team in steals and is averaging eight points per game. Pursley has been an all-around force, averaging 7.5 points and rebounds per game in the first two games.
The women’s team will need to clean up its overall play. They committed 39 turnovers in the first two games. Some Gorlok passes didn’t look crisp, and the shot selection wasn’t always wise. These are fundamentals they could clean up as the season progresses and these players start to really jell together.
On the men’s side, senior guard Dietrick Sooter had quite a weekend. After struggling much of last season, Sooter looks to have found his stroke early on this year. He’s averaging 18 points per game, while shooting 50 percent from the floor and 41.2 percent from behind the arc. Those numbers will be near impossible to sustain for a whole season, but his improvement is noted and should be a big factor for the team.
Sophomore Ahmad Smith has moved into a starting role this year. He really impressed me last season when he was a very valuable sixth man. So far, he looks like an even better starter. He has blazing speed and uses that to his advantage. He’s aggressive and takes smart shots, leading to a 55 percent shooting mark from the field, yielding him 14.5 points per game. The Gorloks have found a big weapon in Smith.
As with all teams early on, the men’s team has a few skills to polish. Its defense is a good place to start. In the weekend tournament, they allowed opponents to shoot better than 50 percent from the floor and score an average of 81 points per game. The defensive unit will use its speed to create confusion and turnovers to feed their offense, but the Gorloks will need to tighten overall.