Hilltop Views

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Amanda Gonzalez

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The reigning conference champions are seeking a second title, as the St. Edward’s women’s team has spent the past few weeks composing a team of sharp-shooting returners and talented transfers.

Senior forward Haley Joly, junior forward Abby Hopper and junior guard Bailey Hill are part of eight returners on the floor with one assisting on the bench who are working to maintain winning consistency.

“I think the returners are still trying to figure things out on and off the court,” Head Coach J.J. Riehl said. “They are being asked to do things and are in roles they’ve never experienced and that is tough, but we are working through those things.”

One of the standout transfers is Isabel Hernandez Pepe, who hails from Rome, Italy. The 5-foot-11-inch junior forward played her two years at the Div. I University of Maine. Since her arrival at St. Edward’s, she has averaged 10.6 points a game with a game-high of 18 points against the University of Texas-Permian Basin Nov. 20 when SEU won 81-49.

“I’m really proud of them. The new players compliment us by giving us size, versatility, athleticism and pure shooting,” Riehl said of the four transfers and two freshmen. “Now it really boils down to them getting experience and becoming comfortable in our system and what we are wanting to do.”

Last year’s squad was led by graduating seniors: point guard Shakera Barnes and forwards Lexi Fatherlee and Khiani Clark. These three led the team in multiple statistics, and were a large factor in the team reaching the championship final in 2016 and claiming the championship title last spring, earning a playoff bid to the NCAA South Central Regional.

On Nov. 18, last year’s squad was presented with their long-awaited championship rings. In reflecting upon the “special day” of honoring last year’s team, Riehl said, “Four years ago when we won our first ever championship, you aren’t sure if you’ll ever get there again. It is always the goal and destination, but it is such a hard thing to do in the basketball world, so to do it again this past year and to win the outright regular season and then back that up with the conference tournament championship and an NCAA appearance was surreal and amazing.”

The graduating seniors’ absence is requiring the younger returners to grow as leaders, while allowing new additions to help form a well-crafted team.

Riehl said, “The team as a whole is really invested in respecting the contributions of the people that came before them and keeping the tradition and culture rich and that is really where our focus lies everyday.”

As of Monday night, the team holds a 3-4 record, after facing strong teams in exhibition games and out-of-state schools from Colorado. Thursday the team begins Heartland Conference action on the road in Kansas against Newman University. 

“Every team has areas or opportunities for growth and this team is no different,” Riehl said. “Obviously, experience and handling pressure situations is something that this team needs to experience so that we can learn and grow and get better.”

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