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Nebraska Women’s Basketball Opens Season with Exhibition Against Rogers State

A veteran Husker squad looks to improve upon a disappointing finish to last season

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 14 Women’s Nebraska at Maryland Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Nebraska vs Rogers State
When: Saturday, Nov 2 at 4 pm (CT)
Listen: Live radio coverage (beginning at 3:45 p.m.) can be heard in Omaha on 105.9 FM, and across the state on select Learfield-IMG College Husker Sports Network stations. Free live audio can be found at Huskers.com and the Huskers App

The fourth season of the Amy Williams era opens this Saturday with an exhibition game against Rogers State - a blast from the past for the Nebraska coaching staff. Williams started her collegiate head coaching career at Rogers State in 2007-08, when she led the transition of the Oklahoma school from junior college to NAIA. She guided Rogers State to the 2012 NAIA Elite Eight in her final year at the school. Nebraska Assistant Coach Tandem Mays spent four seasons from 2008-09 through 2011-12 as an assistant on Williams’ staff at Rogers State. Nebraska Assistant Coach Chuck Love was a men’s basketball assistant coach at Rogers State in 2011-12. He also helped the Hillcat men to the NAIA Elite Eight in 2012. It was his only season at Rogers State before joining Williams on the women’s basketball staff at South Dakota in 2012-13.

For the first time at Nebraska, Coach Williams is fielding a veteran team. She returns all five starters (at least the five who finished the season in the starting lineup), her top seven scorers from last season and has the luxury of few expectations. After last season’s disappointing 14-16 finish (9-9 in the Big Ten), no one is picking the Huskers to make noise in the Big Ten.

Departures

Maddie Simon graduated after being a significant four-year contributor, a starter for her junior season and the first half of her senior season. Simon was a team leader off the floor and solid player on the floor. She will be missed, but I believe the statistical production she brought can be filled through improvements in the younger players.

Bria Stallworth sat out the 2018-19 season and chose to transfer to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville for 2019-20. Stallworth played at U Mass as a freshman, transferred to Nebraska, sat out for a season, played one season (hampered by a foot injury), sat out another season (to focus on her academics) and is a graduate student at SIUE. Her loss is not a significant one for the Huskers. Hopefully, she finds playing time (and is able to stay healthy) at SIUE.

Returning

Seniors: The Huskers have four seniors, two of whom are returning starters. Point guard Hannah Whitish (10.1 ppg) and wing Nicea Eliely (7.9 ppg). Whitish is a two-time All-Big Ten selection, and Eliely is one of the Big Ten’s best defenders. Grad transfer Kristian Hudson returns after missing Nebraska’s final 23 games last year with an injury and after receiving a medical redshirt gave her eligibility for 2019-20. Senior forward Grace Mitchell will add size and experience inside for the Huskers. Mitchell, Whitish and Eliely were players recruited by Connie Yori but chose to stick with Amy Williams after Yori resigned.

Juniors: This class features two talented players who together ranked as a top 25 recruiting class for Division I basketball. Taylor Kissinger (8.9 ppg) started her sophomore season as a starter but moved to the bench due to injuries. She is a deadly three-point shooter and has a knack for getting defenders to forget about her when she makes cuts to the basket. Kissinger led the Big Ten and ranked fourth nationally in three-point percentage (.456) last season. Center Kate Cain (7.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 2.6 bpg) has earned her second appearance on the Lisa Leslie Award Watch List, and is on track to become Nebraska’s all-time leader in blocked shots this season.

Sophomores: This class also ranked as a top 25 recruiting class and was the second most productive freshman class (in points scored) in DI women’s basketball last season (893). The four-player class includes Sam Haiby (10.0 ppg), Leigha Brown (9.6 ppg), Ashtyn Veerbeek (6.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and Kayla Mershon (3.2 ppg). Mershon and Brown both worked their way into the starting lineup as freshman - Mershon for her defensive capabilities and Brown for her fearless and productive offense. Both Brown and Haiby earned Big Ten “Freshman of the week” honors last season.

Based on an interview I heard from Amy Williams, it sounds like the coaching staff has been developing Haiby at point in addition to being a shooting guard. Even as a freshman, she was the Husker I wanted to have the ball in her hands at crunch time and her ability to make good things happen late in the shot clock was remarkable.

Freshman: Three newcomers join the Huskers this season, Isabelle Bourne, Trinity Brady and Makenzie Helms. Bourne is a 6’2” post player and was a key in the Australian U19 National Team’s run to a silver medal at the FIBA U19 World Championships this summer. Helms is a talented point guard and was the Connecticut Gatorade High School Player of the Year in 2018-19. Brady is also a guard and finished her prep career at Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Tennessee - one of the top women’s basketball academy teams in the nation. As a junior, she was one of the top high school players in the state of Indiana at Lawrence North. She was an IBCA Subway Supreme 15 Underclass All-State selection.

Brady especially fits the mold of the guard Amy Williams has been recruiting of late - tough as nails and willing/able to create her own opportunities when she’s got the ball.

Expected Starters

Nebraska Cornhuskers (0-0, 0-0 Big Ten)

13 - Ashtyn Veerbeek, 6-2, So., F - 6.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg
31 - Kate Cain, 6-5, Jr., C - 7.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg
3 - Hannah Whitish, 5-9, Sr., G - 10.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg
5 - Nicea Eliely, 6-1, Sr., G - 7.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg
32 - Leigha Brown, 6-1, So., F - 9.6 ppg, 2.6 rpg

Off the Bench
4 - Sam Haiby, 5-9, So., G - 10.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg
33 - Taylor Kissinger, 6-1, So., G - 8.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg
44 - Kayla Mershon, 6-3, So., F - 3.2 ppg, 3.0 rpg
11 - Kristian Hudson, 5-5, RSr., G - 2.4 ppg, 1.6 rpg
14 - Grace Mitchell, 6-2, Jr., F - 1.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg
1 - Makenzie Helms, 5-8, Fr., G
2 - Trinity Brady, 5-11, Fr., G
34 - Isabelle Bourne, 6-2, Fr., F

Head Coach: Amy Williams (Nebraska, 1998)Fourth Season at Nebraska (42-49); 13th Season Overall (235-158)

Rogers State Hillcats (0-0, 0-0 MIAA)

25 - Bailey Kliewer, 5-10, Fr., F
2 - Samariah Thompson, 5-7, So., G
3 - Katrina Christian, 5-7, Jr., G
10 - Alicia Brown, 5-8, So., G - 6.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg
23 - Vanessa Gajdosova, 5-8, So., G

Off the Bench

5 - Azaria Floyd, 5-5, Sr., G - 7.4 ppg, 2.3 rpg
11 - Darian Jackson, 5-9, Sr., F - 6.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg
13 - Lilly Garner, 5-9, Jr., G - 4.1 ppg, 1.2 rpg4 - Julie Luna, 5-7, So., G
12 - Alyche Brown, 5-7, Fr., G
15 - Rylie Elkin, 6-1, Fr.. F

Head Coach: Kyle Bent (Illinois, 2008)Second Season at Rogers State (14-14); Sixth Season Overall: (109-52)